Belgium: 2 New Cases of Euthanasia for Psychiatric Disorders are Causing Controversy


20 years after the adoption of the law legalising euthanasia in Belgium, two new painful cases of euthanasia for psychiatric reasons are being widely publicised in the media. Once again, they corroborate, the abuse of euthanasia in that State.

Belgium: Euthanasia for psychiatric reasons: The case of Nathalie Huygens

The first case concerns Nathalie Huygens, a woman in her fifties for whom the “right for euthanasia” has just been granted. This mother of two children is living with the psychological sequel following a violent aggression, including rape, which she suffered in 2016.

Her son, in an open letter published in 2022, explains the day-to-day existence of his mother which took a serious downturn since her traumatic experience followed by her parents’ divorce, suicide attempts and the legal laxity afforded to her attacker.

He explains that his mother told him “I really need to go back to hospital for a long stay, but I simply cannot afford it financially.” Indeed, her medical insurance refuses to cover the cost of psychiatric hospitalisation”.

This situation seriously questions the availability of treatment and the notion of incurability in the case of psychiatric disorders, a condition specified in Belgian law.

Second case of euthanasia in Belgium for psychiatric disorders: Geneviève Lhermitte

The second case of euthanasia concerns a woman on conditional release and held in a psychiatric ward. She has just been euthanised, on 28th February 2023, at her own request. She chose the date of her euthanasia: 16 years after the multiple murder which she committed on her 5 children and for which she was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008.

As reported in the Swiss daily “Le Temps”: Following her sentence to life imprisonment, Geneviève Lhermitte whose court case caused considerable turmoil, “had in 2010 launched a civil court case against her previous psychiatrist, claiming up to three million euros of damages due to his inaction regarding the foreseeable drama.

Euthanasia of people who have been sentenced is a sensitive subject in Belgium.

The first euthanasia of a prisoner in Belgium took place in 2012 for a manwith a long sentence and seriously ill. Some ten other detainees have since expressed the same request. During the “Van Den Bleekenn” case, in 2014, euthanasia had initially been granted, but the procedure was then interrupted and he was redirected towards appropriate treatment. The Human Rights League then reacted violently claiming it to be a disguised form of death sentence and denouncing the disinvestments of treatment infrastructure for prisoners.

Towards suicide by euthanasia?

In Belgium, the 2002 law authorises euthanasia for patients who are “in a medical situation with no solution and mentions constant and unbearable physical or psychiatric suffering which cannot be relieved and which results from a serious and incurable accidental or pathological condition.

In its analysis of the report by the Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission for 2020-2021, the European Bioethics Institute highlights that “91 people suffering from mental and behavioural disorders were euthanised during the 2020-2021 period, representing an increase compared with the previous period. Among those, 49 people were euthanised for cognitive disorders (dementia). Note that this figure is double that for 2016-2017 (24).”

Through the successive reports by the Control Commission, it can be seen that there is a gradual drift towards acceptance of euthanasia for mental or poly-pathological cases with an ever-widening interpretation regarding the incurability and the notion of suffering which cannot be relieved.

The Control Commission in its latest report even goes so far as to write “failed suicide attempts make the people concerned aware that there exists a more dignified way of ending one’s life.”

Although Belgian psychiatrists are divided on the subject, especially in the French-speaking region, a psychiatrist who practices this type of suicide by euthanasia claims that “Through euthanasia, there is a certain way of civilising suicide“.

This presentation of euthanasia is spine-chilling and condones suicide, rather than attempting to prevent it.

When interviewed by “Le Point” magazine, Ariane Bazan, the professor of clinical psychology and psychopathology at the University of Lorraine and the Brussels free university, who is concerned about cases of euthanasia for psychiatric reasons since 2015 “sees the authorisation of euthanasia as an abuse of the text adopted by Parliament in 2002 and a cynical means of responding to the failures of the system for the treatment of psychiatric pathologies.” She highlights the fact that “The Belgian law decriminalises euthanasia in cases of unbearable and incurable suffering. However, even if psychiatric suffering is indeed extremely difficult to bear, their incurability cannot be considered the same as cancer conditions or neurodegenerative pathologies. What is being done here, in my view, is taking hostage the existing text and twisting it to turn it into a law for assisted suicide.

According to her: “We are confronted by a genuine epidemic of psychiatric ill-being.” She observes that the average profile of patients requesting euthanasia for psychiatric reasons are “two-thirds women, who often have a very difficult life path, with maltreatment and abuse, who have developed pathologies such as borderline personality conditions, with self-mutilation, suicide attempts, or eating behavioural conditions.”

Belgium, which is considered by some people as a role model in the debate on the end of life in France, appears clearly as an anti-model inasmuch as it does away with the prohibition to kill: the supervision is constantly deviating ever more worryingly. Presently, the prevention of suicide is being undermined in certain cases, driving the most fragile to withdrawal and self-exclusion.

Note: The number of euthanasia officially conducted in Belgium is in constant increase. During 2022 the highest level so far was achieved: 2,966 euthanasia were declared to the Commission in 2022, representing an increase by 9.9% relative to the previous year. This figure should be added to the undeclared euthanasia, estimated at 25 to 35% in Flanders, which represent 75% of the total number of euthanasia.

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