Three doctors on trial in Belgian euthanasia case draws attention to risks of assisted suicide laws

Three Belgian doctors are on trial this week accused of unlawfully poisoning a woman in the country’s first criminal case concerning euthanasia.

Tine Nys died surrounded by her family on 27 April 2010.

Her sisters, Lotte and Sophie, are adamant she was not incurably ill as Belgian law requires, but suffering from the heartache of a broken relationship.

Prosecutors argue that the 38-year-old had falsely claimed to be autistic in order to be approved for euthanasia, and had only been diagnosed with Asperger’s just two months before her death, but never received treatment for the condition.

They say the three doctors, whose names have not been made public never established her “suffering” as ‘incurable’, which is a requirement to be approved for euthanasia in Belgium.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia were first legalised in Belgium in 2002 for adults experiencing a “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated.”

In 2014, the law was amended to include children experiencing constant and unbearable suffering which cannot be eased, and which will cause death in the short term”.

Since then individuals have been euthanised for depression, blindness and deafness, gender-identity and anorexia.

Prosecutors will then read the indictment on Friday before the three doctors, whose names are required for the euthanasia procedure are given a chance to speak next Monday. If the three are found guilty they could be sentenced to a lifetime in prison. They include the doctor who administered the lethal injection, Tine’s former general practitioner and a psychiatrist.

Tine’s sisters revealed the botched manner and lack of compassion from the doctor who administered Tine’s lethal injection.

Speaking to Flemish TV in 2016, they said: “He likened her death to that of a pet that is in pain and is having a shot.

“He also asked our father to hold the needle in her arm because he had forgotten to bring plasters. When she had died he asked our parents if they wanted to listen through the stethoscope to check her heart had actually stopped beating.”

In Belgium, there is now a renewed push for euthanasia to be available for those who are healthy but have decided they have a “fulfilled life”

The President of Belgium’s Liberal Party, Gwendolyn Rutten, told the Brussels Times: “We must be able to choose the right to die not only when we are suffering in an intolerable way but also when our lives are fulfilled and we request to do it explicitly, freely, independently and firmly.”

In 2018 there was a total of 2,357 reported assisted suicides, up from 2,309 in the previous year. Since 2010, there has been a 247% increase in just 8 years.

The country is currently considering euthanising a physically healthy 23-year-old over a mental health problem.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“While this case may be unprecedented, it not only highlights the lack of compassion in countries with assisted suicide and euthanasia laws but also draws attention to the risks and dangers of legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“Tine Nys was a physically healthy woman with her future ahead of her. She should have been offered care and support to alleviate her short-term suffering.

“Assisted suicide clears the way for despair and hopelessness. Where hardship and suffering is, assisted suicide is allowed to take the place of care and compassion as a response”

The UK has rejected numerous attempts to legalise assisted suicide since the turn of the millennium. The most recent assisted suicide bill, in 2015, was defeated by 330 votes to 118, a majority of 212 votes.

Ethical concerns raised over surge in organ donations in Canada after legalisation of assisted suicide

The legalisation of assisted suicide in Canada has led to a surge in organ donations and the open solicitation of those considering medically assisted death, raising ethical concerns.

During the first 11 months of 2019, Trillium Gift of Life Network, which oversees organ and tissue donation in Ontario, revealed that 18 organs and 95 tissues were donated by people who had ended their life through assisted suicide in the Canadian province. Even without the inclusion of organs and tissues donated in December’s data, the number of donations is up 14% from 2018 and 109% higher than it was in 2017.

“Medical assistance in dying,” as it is legally referred to in the country, has been legal in Canada since 2016, under certain conditions. Since then, organs and tissues donated from those who ended their life through assisted suicide have risen significantly each year.

The 113 assisted suicide related donations in 2019 accounted for 5 percent of overall donations in Ontario, a share that has also been increasing. In 2018, assisted suicide related donations made up 3.6 percent of the province’s total donations, and in 2017 just 2.1 percent.

This new source of organs and tissues is significant as Ontario’s waiting list for organs remains typically static around 1,600.

Countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands require assisted suicide recipients to initiate organ donation, while others, like Switzerland and several US states, prohibit them from donating organs altogether.

In Canada, however, provincial law requires medical professionals to notify the Trillium Gift of Life Network of any potential assisted suicide recipients when a death is imminent. Trillium is then free to approach these individuals and solicit organ donations, leading politicians and medical professionals to question its ethical implications.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper told CNA that the practice raises questions regarding consent and opens up the possibility of coercion.

“The concern that I have is that it muddies the waters in terms of the patient making a decision freely, without any degree of coercion or influence from anyone,” said Cooper.

He added that with the current setup of physician-assisted death in Canada, there is a chance that it is administered to a patient who is not able to properly consent or who may not want to die.

Dr Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, said such practices appear “rather horrifying.”

Given that a person who is approved for euthanasia may not be terminally ill, McQueen she added it is not out of the realm of possibility that a primary physician “might well suggest organ donation as, if not an incentive, a kind of ‘consolation’ for the person’s own loss of life.”

Despite ethical concerns, the policy of allowing medical groups to solicit those considering assisted suicide for organ donations is being adopted by more Canadian provinces and could be a templated for other countries that introduce medical assisted death.

Quebec recently approved Transplant Quebec to raise the possibility of organ donation with patients after their request to die by euthanasia is approved by doctors.

Imprisoned child rapist challenges assisted suicide law in Switzerland

A request by a child rapist, imprisoned for life for the danger he poses to the community, is testing Switzerland’s support for assisted suicide.

The unprecedented case has exposed a legal vacuum in the country and has raised complex questions over whether prisoners can seek help to end their own lives.

In 1996, Peter Vogt was convicted for sexual assault and rape against multiple girls and women, ranging in age from 10 to 56.

Although his sentence was for a 10-year term, the 69-year-old is currently being detained indefinitely at Bostadel prison in northern Switzerland as he is still considered dangerous.

Peter told news agency AFP: “It is natural that one would rather commit suicide than be buried alive for years to come.

He added, “It would be better to be dead than to be left to vegetate behind these walls.”

The law in Switzerland allows assisted suicide under certain conditions. The Swiss Supreme Court has ruled people must commit suicide by their own hand, for example, by taking medication themselves – a doctor may provide but not administer a lethal injection, otherwise they will be liable for criminal prosecution.

People must also be aware of the actions they are undertaking and have given due consideration to their situation. In addition, they should be consistently sure they wish to die, and not be under the influence of another person, or group of persons.

Additionally, article 115 of the Swiss penal code prohibits assisted suicide for “selfish motives”, meaning most assisted suicides in the country are performed on elderly people suffering from terminal diseases.

Authorities are aiming to reach a decision in Vogt’s case in the next few months and have asked the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation to offer advice.

In October, the centre released a report arguing that prisoners should be allowed to end their own lives under certain conditions, due to the “right of self-determination” of individuals.

Barbara Rohner, lead author of the report, told AFP that any detainee possessing discernment should, in principle, have assisted suicide rights if they have “a physical or mental illness resulting in unbearable suffering.”

Vogt has revealed the “unbearable” deterioration in his quality of life, along with the fact that he can no longer see his mother who lives in Austria, is behind his desire to die.

Christine Bussat, founder of the Swiss chapter of the Marche Blanche victims’ rights groups, said the decision on a prisoner’s right to die should ultimately belong to their victims.  

The outcome in Vogt’s case will be the first of its kind in Switzerland and could set a precedent for an ageing prison population.

According to the Swiss National Science Foundation, a research institute, the number of prisoners over 50 years old doubled to 600 between 2005 and 2016.The founder of Dignitas, one of eight ‘assisted suicide societies’ in Switzerland, is currently being prosecuted for making a personal profit out of three assisted suicides – something which is prohibited by the Swiss Criminal Code.

UK General Election: Large group of pro-abortion MPs are gone, but big abortion threat still on the horizon

Following the UK General Election on Thursday, the number of pro-life MPs has increased while the pro-abortion lobby has lost a large number of MPs according to an analysis conducted by pro-life charity Right To Life UK.

Ahead of the vote, tens of thousands of the charity’s supporters urged MP candidates to sign the Both Lives Pledge, which outlined three policy changes designed to increase protection for babies in the womb and end pregnancy discrimination for women. Over 200 candidates signed the pledge ahead of polling day.

A number of prominent signatories of the Both Lives Pledge were elected. They include the former Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, Fiona Bruce, Maria Caulfield and Mary Glindon. 

Meanwhile, a number of outspoken pro-abortion MPs lost their seats including Anna Soubry, Paula Sherriff, Dennis Skinner and Chuka Umunna.

Ahead of the election, there was a major backlash against a decision by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to pledge in their manifestos to introduce an extreme abortion law to the UK. 

Both parties severely underperformed in the election on December 12. Conversely, the major parties who did not include a manifesto promise to introduce extreme abortion changes to abortion law, the Conservatives and Scottish National Party, both gained a large number of seats.

The results come after what has arguably been the worst parliament on record when it comes to life issues after MPs in Westminster voted to impose Europe’s most extreme abortion law on Northern Ireland.

However, the abortion lobby has made it clear that they will be seeking to introduce an extreme abortion proposal, possibly going as far as allowing abortion up to birth for any reason, most likely as an amendment to a new Domestic Abuse Bill.

Pro-life charity Right To Life UK has said it will be working hard to oppose the proposed new abortion framework in Northern Ireland, which is due to be introduced on March 31, and will also be working to block any attempts to introduced an extreme abortion law to Great Britain.

Additionally, the charity has said it will work closely with MPs to campaign for positive changes designed to increase protection for babies in the womb and end pregnancy discrimination for women.

In July, assisted suicide was debated in parliament for the first time since MPs voted by a huge majority, of 212, in 2015 to reject plans to introduce it to the UK.

Despite all major disability rights groups in the UK remaining opposed to any change in the law, it is likely there will be an attempt to introduce assisted suicide via a private members bill in this parliament. A significant number of MPs signed the Right To Life UK pledge to oppose assisted suicide and support better palliative care.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Our analysis of the make-up of the new parliament indicates that the number of pro-life MPs has increased while the pro-abortion lobby has lost a large number of MPs. While this is positive, the threat of the introduction of an extreme abortion law has not gone away. The Domestic Abuse Bil will be back and the abortion lobby will be back in force, ready to amend it with the aim of introducing an extreme abortion law to England and Wales.

“We are calling on people throughout constituencies in the UK to make it clear to their local MP that they are against introducing an extreme abortion law or assisted suicide to England and Wales – and instead want to see positive policies that will better protect and support women, unborn babies and the elderly.”