Thursday, 5 June 2014

Charges of illegal euthanasia pose dilemmas for Belgian law

Deacon charged with illegal active euthanasia in Belgium

Breaking news from a number of sources says that Belgian Police have charged a 57 year old man with 10 cases of illegal euthanasia. (see HERE for example)

The man, identified as Deacon Wevelgem was working in the Sacred Heart Hospital in Menin up until 2002 where, presumably the deaths occurred over a period of years.

Belgium’s euthanasia laws came into effect in 2002 rendering, one would assume, any euthanasia deaths before that time subject to the Belgian criminal code on homicide.

The fact that these deaths are supposed to have occurred in a Catholic Hospital with Wevelgem holding the position of Deacon will no doubt be a significant embarrassment to the Belgian Catholic Church; the Diocese of Bruges commenting that, "Euthanasia and Deacon are two words that should not be in the same sentence."

This case will be watched very closely both in Belgium and elsewhere. Details of the deaths and the death methods have not yet come to light. However, what will be of most interest is how the Belgian Courts will deal with this matter considering that, since 2002, no acts of euthanasia have been referred to the police by the Euthanasia Evaluation Commission yet studies have shown that in the Flanders region in 2007, up to 47% of euthanasia deaths were not reported and 32% of deaths that year showed no record of request nor consent.

Should the law deal harshly with Deacon Wevelgem, then the question begging is whether illegal euthanasia acts since 2002 should also be treated similarly. 

But here’s the problem: with Belgium’s practice of euthanasia not being strictly guarded by the Evaluation Commission over 12 years now; with doctors admitting publicly that they choose not to even report such deaths (a breech of the law) and with 5 deaths by euthanasia occurring each and every day in that country, is it likely that this man should be judged by the standards pre-2002?

On the other hand, if the judgement is made in regards for the extant law and the socio-medical mores of 2014 (with Wevelgem, therefore, receiving a lighter penalty) this would only serve to confirm the cultural drift towards the acceptability of killing those whom others feel have a life that is not worth living.

Much of the above is, of course, speculative given the paucity of information. It does however pose a significant problem for Belgian law.

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