Prisoner Granted Euthanasia Request by Belgian Court

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Source: Shutterstock, “Belgium Eyes Legalizing Euthanasia for Children,” nypost.com, Oct. 31, 2013

Belgian courts recently granted an inmate serving a life sentence the right to receive euthanasia rather than serving the remainder of his life sentence.

The inmate, Frank Van Den Bleeken, has been in prison nearly 30 years for rape and murder. The 50-year-old man argued in court that there is a lack of available therapy for his mental condition, and rather than suffer years of mental anguish, he should have physician assisted suicide made available to him. A panel of medical experts concluded that his psychological condition was incurable. Mr. Van Den Bleeken’s lawyer stated, “he has been seen by several doctors and their conclusion is that he is suffering, and suffering unbearably.”

The decision comes after three years of legal proceedings. The Belgium Federal Euthanasia Commission “wanted to consider every possible treatment option before consenting to such a measure,” according to the BBC. Van Den Bleeken first requested a transfer to the Netherlands for specialized treatment. When that request was denied he asked for a “mercy killing,” which became an official euthanasia petition granted by a Brussels appeals court. The procedure will take place at a hospital, but Van Den Bleeken’s representatives could not confirm when or where.

Belgium, like all of the countries in the European Union, does not have the death penalty. It has had legal euthanasia for twelve years and is one of the only countries to expand these laws beyond the terminally ill, recently increasing availability to children at any age (though application to minors is limited to those about to die). Frank Van Den Bleeken’s case is the first ruling involving a prisoner, which required the consent of the Belgian Justice Ministry.

Opponents of the expansion of euthanasia, such as Belgian senator Els van Hoof, raise concerns that wider interpretation of these laws could lead to a slippery slope. Supporters of the ruling view euthanasia as “the ultimate gesture of humanity,” according to the BBC.  The controversy persists in the largely Roman Catholic country of Belgium.

Sources:

Juergen Baetz, “Jailed Rapist and Murderer in Belgium Gets Approval to Be Euthanized After 3 Decades in Jail,” usnews.com, Sep. 16, 2014

Robert-Jan Bartunek, “Jailed Murderer in Belgium Granted Request to Die Under Euthanasia Law,” reuters.com, Sep. 19, 2014

Christian Brown, “Some Inmates Should Have Right to Euthanasia,” newscientist.com, Sep. 19, 2014

Piers Scholfield, “Belgian Murderer Van Den Bleeken Wins ‘Right to Die,'” bbc.com, Sep. 15, 2014