I reported yesterday on the breaking news that 57 year old Deacon, Wevelgemse Ivo Poppe had been arrested and charged with 10 counts of illegal euthanasia; the deaths occurring before the Belgian law on euthanasia was introduced in 2002.
News reports today say that Poppe has confessed to killing up to 50 people in the Sacred Heart Hospital in Menen from the 1980s up to 2011. Up until 2002 Poppe was a nurse at the hospital and,thereafter worked in a part time capacity as a pastoral assistant.
Poppe has confessed to multiple acts of euthanasia which, according to reports, he noted in his diaries. His defence counsel, Filip De Reuse said today that, "My client acted out of compassion for people in a desperate situation."
Poppe made his confessions after the matter was raised with local police by a third party. He admitted that he would give the patient an overdose of insulin or would smother them with a pillow.
The Belgian authorities are working with the hospital administrators and the local Catholic Diocese to uncover the extent of the deaths and to try to answer the obvious question of how this could have happened.
In yesterday's report I suggested that this case could provide significant difficulties for the Belgian law. Should these euthanasia deaths that occurred prior to the legalization of euthanasia be treated with the full weight of the law that existed prior to 2002 or, should the fact that significant abuse of the extant euthanasia laws since that time be weighed in the matter? Ultimately, what does this mean for the Belgian Euthanasia Evaluation Commission under the leadership of Dr Wim Distelmans that has been 'asleep at the wheel' by not reporting known abuses at all over the last decade.
Like the incoming tide, Distelmans himself weighed into this grave matter today telling one news service that, "If the facts happened in 2002 there was not even a question of euthanasia, and it was not regulated by law. If it happened after 2002, one can speak of euthanasia but then euthanasia must be performed by a doctor. "
Distelmans, it would seem, understands the implications of this case for his reputation and that of the euthanasia law itself. His quote is way off the mark.
Euthanasia is a category of homicide where the intention is to relieve suffering - for compassionate reasons. Poppe's actions seem to certainly fit this description. Distelmans is wrong: such actions were regulated at the time by the laws on homicide.
No, Poppe did not have a medical degree and, while that is a basic requirement under Belgian euthanasia law - not that it is always adhered to - it is not part of the legal definition at all.
Distelmans would, no doubt, be keen to have the deaths at Poppe's hands categorized as murder rather than euthanasia. That would ensure that he and his commission would stay out of local and international gaze.
Sadly for Distelmans, that horse has well and truly bolted.