Three doctors went on trial Tueday in Belgium accused of not respecting the conditions for euthanasia, a first in a country that legalised assisted suicide nearly two decades ago.
The three could be imprisoned for life if found guilty in the case of Tine Nys, a 38-year-old Belgian woman who asserted her right to die in 2010 for severe mental suffering.
Jurors were chosen Tuesday for the trial, said the court in the northwestern Dutch-speaking city of Ghent. The charges will be read out Friday before the defendants answer them Monday.
The accused are the doctor who gave Nys the lethal drip as well as a general practitioner and a psychiatrist whose green light was needed for the assisted suicide.
The case follows the complaints of two of Nys’s sisters who deplored what they said was a hasty decision and who accused the suspects of “poisoning” their sister.
“It is difficult to find a more serious crime,” a legal source close to the case told AFP, adding they could be jailed for life. “We are in the same chapter of the criminal code as murder.”
Since Belgium decriminalised euthanasia in 2002, doctors have already faced legal proceedings, but so far the investigations have always led to dismissals.
This trial will raise the question whether Nys’s ailment was, in fact, incurable. In Belgium, euthanasia carried out for psychiatric illnesses represents a tiny part of the total.
‘Request was real’
According to her sisters, not all treatements were tried for Nys following her diagnosis for autism two months before her death.
“Tine Nys’s request was real. You cannot find a more voluntary request than this one,” said Jacqueline Herremans, who chairs the Belgian Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD).
In Belgium, euthanasia is authorised for patients suffering an incurable disease who have made their request “voluntarily, thoughtfully and repeatedly”.
This right, for adults, was extended in 2014 to minors, also within a very strict legal framework.
In another aspect of the case, the doctor who performed the euthanasia is reproached for alleged failings during the act. In particular, he is said to have asked Tine’s father to assist him by holding the needle in his daughter’s arm.
According to the latest official figures available, 2,357 declarations of euthanasia were recorded in 2018 in Belgium by the competent federal commission.
The latest case to receive media coverage was the death last October of a paralympic athlete, Marieke Vervoort, who had announced her intention to resort to euthanasia to end her suffering.
The trial is scheduled to run for two weeks.