Belgian court acquits doctors of manslaughter for euthanizing 38-year-old female patient

Doctor Stephane Mercier visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse hospital in Villejuif near Paris. | (Photo: Reuters)

Three Belgian doctors who euthanized a patient that exhibited mental health problems were acquitted Friday on charges of manslaughter by poisoning.  

In what has been seen as an important test of the western European nation's euthanasia laws, a Belgian court acquitted the three doctors of manslaughter on Friday, Time magazine reported. Thirty-eight-year-old Tine Nys, a patient suffering a mental breakdown, was injected with a lethal dose to end her life in 2010.

Joris Van Hove, the doctor who administered the lethal injection, Nys' former doctor Frank D, and psychiatrist Lieve Thienpont were all acquitted. 

The court case came about after the woman's family took legal action against the doctors, arguing that her death never should have occurred and that her mental state was not hopeless and further treatment was possible, the BBC reported. 

Nys had reportedly suffered serious psychiatric problems during her childhood and had previously attempted suicide when she was younger. Nys' family members said they think euthanasia should be permitted in some cases but want the law to be made more clear. 

The jury took eight hours to deliberate, ultimately reaching a not guilty verdict.

Belgium is one of only two countries in the world that permits euthanasia for patients suffering from a mental illness. 

The verdict is not a shock to those who have tracked the trajectories of euthanasia laws. Such critics have insisted that euthanasia and assisted suicide laws inevitably loosen over time once they are codified, and that the principle of "dignified death" receives priority over any abuse or malfeasance by doctors.

The Belgian verdict comes mere months after a similar ruling in the Netherlands in which a doctor was exonerated after ordering family members to physically restrain a woman who was fighting for her life during a physician-assisted death.

Commenting on the result, Discovery Institute senior fellow Wesley Smith said on the blog of conservative publication National Review that the verdict was "disgusting but unsurprising."

"After the Dutch and now Belgian refusals to convict, don’t expect any other death doctors to ever be prosecuted no matter how far they seem to stray from legally accepted euthanasia practices," he said.

Supposedly protective guidelines and so-called restrictions that advocates assert will guard against abuse are "useless veneer," he added.

"Once medicalized killing becomes legal and societally accepted, death becomes the prime paradigm rather than protecting the lives of vulnerable people."

The U.S. states that allow assisted suicide include: Maine, Vermont, New Jersey, Washington state, Oregon, California, and Hawaii, along with the District of Columbia. Montana does not have a state law on the books but the option is legal in the state following a state Supreme Court ruling.

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