Belgium’s euthanasia law


NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: euthanasia and its expansion in Belgium.

A controversial case there is revealing potential abuses:

It involves a 38-year-old woman named Tine Nys. She’d endured depression for years, undergone treatment for it, and improved. But years later, she was heartbroken over a breakup, relapsed, and told her family she wanted to die.

But Belgium’s euthanasia law doesn’t sanction death for depression, because that’s curable. So Nys found a doctor willing to diagnose her with something considered incurable and chronic in order to “qualify” for death. The doctor obliged with a diagnosis of a mild form of autism.

Two months later in April 2010, Tine Nys was dead by euthanasia.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Her sisters filed a complaint against the doctors. Belgian officials are finally investigating the case. It’s the first criminal investigation of a euthanasia death in the nation since the practice became legal in 2002.

WORLD correspondent Samantha Gobba reports on pro-life issues for WORLD Digital and covered this story. She’s here to talk about it.

Samantha, what stands out to you about this story?

SAMANTHA GOBBA, REPORTER: So it’s not that, oh, Belgium euthanized a woman who had a mental disorder. That’s been going on for years. The real thing that stands out is that she wasn’t even dying. Usually in countries that allow euthanasia, it’s only for people with a terminal illness. What’s happening in Belgium and the Netherlands is just blatant abuse, you know, euthanizing people who never even requested it. The abuse has gotten so bad that this year, both a Dutch and a Belgian advocate actually resigned from their positions on different advisory boards. You also have investigations of euthanasia doctors like this one cropping up.

REICHARD: Well, what’s likely to happen to the doctors who euthanized Tine Nys?

GOBBA: Honestly, probably nothing. What will happen is probably a clarification of Belgium’s law: Can doctors euthanize people just for having a mental disorder?

REICHARD: What are the international implications of this case?

GOBBA: Well, the world is watching. Canada in particular is considering expanding its euthanasia laws to include euthanasia for children, for people who aren’t dying but have a mental illness like depression, and for people who put a request for euthanasia in an advance directive and later become mentally incompetent.

Last Wednesday, the Council of Canadian Academies released a report discussing all three of those expansions, and the authors point to Belgium and the Netherlands as kind of guiding lights.

I spoke to Alex Schadenberg who is the director of  Euthanasia Prevention Coalition based in Canada. He told me about another case in the Netherlands that will influence Canada’s euthanasia expansion efforts.

There, a doctor euthanized a 74-year old dementia patient. Now, this woman had an advance directive that she made before dementia set in. She’d requested euthanasia if she was “suffering.” Doctors put death-inducing drugs into her coffee, but she refused to drink it. So the doctor asked the family to “hold her down” so he could inject the lethal drugs. The definition of “suffering” is fuzzy, and that she might have changed her mind when refusing the coffee laced with drugs wasn’t considered. The doctor was reprimanded, but nothing more. Here’s Schadenberg:

SCHADENBERG: How the Dutch handle that case will affect Canada, whether I like it or not. I have to be brutally honest. That’s going to really affect how Canada deals with the question.

REICHARD: Samantha, you said that the case may hold some good news, too.

GOBBA: Right, so high profile investigations of euthanasia deaths are a good thing. We’ve seen it in the Netherlands. This year, euthanasia cases actually dropped for the first time since 2002, when the country passed legislation legalizing it. Schadenberg told me the reason was the handful of high profile investigations of Dutch euthanasia deaths. Here’s what he said:

SCHADENBERG: What’s happened is that the doctors are getting colder feet about these things. They’re saying, well this case is a little bit gray, and I don’t know if I want to be investigated, because it would cause me a big headache.

REICHARD: And Belgium could follow suit.

GOBBA: Yeah, it’s very possible. Euthanasia won’t be disappearing, but at least the brakes might be on for the time being.

REICHARD: As one comment to your story had it, in a Godless society, life only has value based on man’s caprice and whim. Thank you for bringing us this story, Samantha.

GOBBA:  You’re welcome, Mary.


(Photo/YouTube, Terzake) Tine Nys (center) with her sisters Lotte and Sophie 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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