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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.

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