Doctors acquitted in Belgium’s first criminal euthanasia case

By Reuters in Brussels

A Belgian court has cleared three doctors accused of murder in the country’s first criminal case concerning euthanasia.

The doctors were alleged to have unlawfully poisoned 38-year-old Tine Nys in April 2010 because she did not fulfil the conditions to be euthanised. They were the first doctors to go on trial for euthanasia in Belgium since it legalised the practice in 2002.

A 12-member jury delivered a verdict of not guilty in the early hours of Friday after about eight hours of deliberations, said prosecutors in the city of Ghent, where the trial was held.

The three accused, whose signatures were required for the procedure, were the doctor who administered the lethal injection, Nys’s former general practitioner, and a psychiatrist.

Nys’s parents and sisters, who were present at her death, complained that the euthanasia was carried out in an amateurish manner and that Nys did not have an incurable mental disorder, an important condition for granting euthanasia.

Belgian law allows adults to request the right to die on condition that they are facing unbearable physical or mental suffering resulting from a serious and incurable disorder. It was extended to terminally ill children in 2014.

Most patients choosing medically assisted death have terminal cancer, but mental suffering has extended, for example, to twins born deaf and becoming blind who were unable to bear not being able to communicate with each other.

Supporters of euthanasia say the trial has made doctors in Belgium nervous about signing papers for patients or helping them die. Some patients, they say, are also anxious that they will not be able to die on their own terms.

In the Netherlands, where euthanasia is also legal, a doctor was acquitted in a trial in September after being accused of failing to secure proper consent from a woman who had Alzheimer’s disease. Prosecutors there have since sought a supreme court ruling.