An opinion article (by Rob Jonquière)
The request for and announcements around the euthanasia of Belgian prisoner has released tons of publications and debates around the world. At the centre of these discussions was of course the issue whether this was the definite proof of the so much feared slippery slope, or whether it demonstrated the legal and juridical strength of the law. Summarizing van den Bleeken was given a life sentence 30 years ago because of rape and murder. His imprisonment was executed by isolating him 23 out of 24 hours a day, without any form of guidance, let alone treatment. Van den Bleeken did not appeal against his sentence per se, but wanted guidance and palliative treatment to provide a more humane prison-life. Belgian system though did not had the possibility to offer treatments (like in the Netherlands) for individuals like him and thus became van den Bleeken’s life one of unbearable and hopeless suffering: important core criteria in the Belgian law. An earlier request to be transferred to the Netherlands was turned down (for to me unknown reasons).
The court in Belgium, asked for an opinion, examined the case and concluded that in the absence of any reasonable (treatment) alternative, van den Bleeken’s suffering was unbearable and hopeless. Wrongfully – I think – this opinion was referred to in the media as “a legal permission”, while in accordance with the law euthanasia is crime, until – after the fact – the assessment has shown that all criteria of due care have been fulfilled. The doctor who got the actual request for the euthanasia, in his final assessments concluded that – though not practically available (yet) in Belgium – there was an alternative to ‘treat’ the suffering from unbearable to bearable and thus did not comply.
The Belgium authorities at that moment, and probably pressured by the international uproar on this Belgian deficit (already many times criticized by the ECHR!), suddenly (?) offered transfer to a new clinic and consultation with the Dutch authorities about a possible transfer for palliative treatment in the Netherlands. And let’s not forget a treatment van den Bleeken has wanted all the time!
Looking back at the case history to assess the viability of the Belgian law, it turns out to be a perfect demonstration of the consistency of the connections between palliative care and euthanasia as formulated in the 2002 laws, and of the integrity of doctors that consider to comply – or not – with euthanasia requests, even in very complex situations.
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