April 9, 2024

Belgian softens penalties for illegal euthanasia deaths 

Belgian doctors can be prosecuted if they administer euthanasia without regard to the specified conditions. But however serious the infraction may be, they can only be charged with one offence: murder by poisoning. The penalty is life imprisonment. 

Since euthanasia was legalised in 2002, no doctor had ever been put on trial until 2020. As a consequence of this lack of flexibility, three doctors were charged with murder over the death of Tina Nys, a 38-year-old woman who died in 2010. It was a huge shock to the euthanasia establishment. The doctors were acquitted

To make future penalties more proportionate to the gravity of the offence, the Belgian government plans to amend the legislation

  • If doctors violate the basic framework for legal euthanasia, they will face a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years.
  • If they fulfill all the basic conditions, but make a serious procedural error, like not consulting a second or third doctor, a lesser prison sentence, from 8 days to 3 years, could be imposed.
  • Mitigating circumstances can be taken into account and alternatives to a custodial sentence may be applied.

Some Belgian doctors welcomed the changes. Dr Luc Herry, of the ABYSM doctors union, said that the current system was inadequate. “If a doctor forgot some aspect of the procedure, but the patient had actually made a request for euthanasia, a family member might still file a complaint. Obviously, since we no longer have the main witness since he died, the doctor will find it more difficult to defend himself. “

“When a person suffers unbearably and calls on doctors to opt for euthanasia, doctors cannot be detained because they could be accused of murder by poisoning, ” the Minister of Justice, Paul Van Tigchelt told the media. “It is important to respect the conditions, but we now provide for proportionate sanctions. In this way, we ensure that doctors can continue to accomplish this delicate task with full conscience and peace of mind, while respecting the wishes of patients as well and correctly.”