Belgium: The Euthanasia Trial


On January 31, the verdict was rendered in the trial for three Belgian doctors who had performed euthanasia on Tine Nys in 2010, a young girl suffering from mental problems: the three were acquitted.

The Belgian press refers to it as “the euthanasia trial”, which is the first of its kind since Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. This trial began on January 17 in Ghent at the Assize Court in Ghent.

Tine Nys had experienced a romantic breakup which led to her depression and suicidal behavior. Since Belgium is one of the few countries in which euthanasia is allowed in cases of mental suffering, she requested euthanasia.

Prior to practicing euthanasia, Belgian law requires for three doctors to certify that the patient’s request is voluntary, well-considered, and repeated. The person must be in “a hopeless medical situation and a state of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering which cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable accidental or pathological condition”.

After Tine Nys’s death, her family members decided to press charges. The public prosecution also questioned whether or not the legal conditions for euthanasia had been respected.

The court also investigated the issue of the doctors’ sovereignty. The family alleged that the doctors had made an expeditious decision, especially since Tine Nys had been diagnosed with autism just two months before euthanasia, without ever receiving treatment for this condition.

During the trial some of the witnesses questioned, in the Belgian law, the articles which allow euthanasia for psychiatric illnesses. “It can never be asserted that a psychiatric patient’s case is hopeless,” acknowledged neuro-psychiatrist, Ivo Uyttendaele, former President at the Physician’s College.

As Clinical Psychology Professor at the Free University of Brussels, Anne Bazan testified in support of the Nys family. In her opinion, although the medical staff may have the responsibility of informing the patient of his right to request euthanasia, this information may be detrimental to his therapy. “In these circumstances, a patient is never informed that treatment is no longer available. Treatment is always an option. Mentioning euthanasia even undermines our capacity to treat our most vulnerable patients. This encourages them to give up hope, rather than hold on, and the key to treatment is hope. “

While many suicide prevention initiatives have appeared throughout the world, such as The Suicide Prevention Days or Weeks, the Belgian society’s attitude is delusive. What is the message to suicidal people when euthanasia is suggested to people suffering from mental disorders?

According to Carine Brochier at the European Institute of Bioethics, “this law has got out of control. Starting with the terminally ill, it was then extended to the elderly who suffered from several pathologies, then finally suggested to people with a risk of dementia, since once dementia is established, the law is no longer applicable. In the end, psychological distress was a reason to request euthanasia. We didn’t realize what we were doing.”


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