Belgium’s Minister of Justice approved a euthanasia request Monday from a convicted rapist serving a life sentence.
The Brussels court of appeal will review the case September 29, but Belgian media report it is expected simply to record the existence of the agreement between the man and the government.
This would not be the first euthanasia of a Belgian prisoner – a terminally ill man who had already spent 27 years in jail was legally killed two years ago – but in the case of Frank Van Den Bleeken, the euthanasia request is being linked to the conditions of his imprisonment.
Van Den Bleeken, 50, has spent close to 30 years in prison. He was sentenced to life-long imprisonment for several counts of rape, one of them followed by murder. He has been declared irresponsible for these acts because of psychiatric disorders and does not want to be released from prison, considering himself to be “a danger for society.” Despite having repeatedly asked for psychiatric treatment, none has been forthcoming in the absence of any Belgian institution prepared to take up this sort of patient.
The convicted rapist says his psychological suffering is “intolerable” and it is on these grounds that three doctors decided last May that Van Den Bleeken should be entitled to euthanasia – even though he has also asked for a transfer to a Dutch institution where psychiatrically ill criminals receive adequate treatment and care.
He presented both demands to the minister of Justice via an emergency procedure. The Brussels appeal court decided that the minister, Maggie De Block, was not competent to order a transfer to the Netherlands but that she could decide to grant his request for euthanasia. The decision is being called a purely “medical” one by the minister who told the press that she confined herself to following the doctors’ opinion.
A previous euthanasia request made by Van Den Bleeken three years ago was rejected on the grounds that all had not been done to ensure that he would suffer less and that other options than death were available.
Now, even though it is clear that the prisoner would find more humane conditions of detention in nearby Holland, that he is conscious of the gravity of the acts he commits under the pressure of his mental illness, and that he is in need of medical care, the decision to make him die reads as a further trivialization of euthanasia in a country where an ever-increasing amount of psychological motives are being accepted to justify “mercy-killing.”
As in all the states of the European Union, the death penalty does not exist; it was abolished in Belgium in 1996. Rapists and murderers can find themselves sentenced to life-long sentences with no hope at all of ever being freed, a perspective which some find worse than death.
Since Van Den Bleeken’s story received media coverage, including a televised interview at the end of 2013, fifteen other prisoners have contacted the “UL-Team,” an information center for end-of-life questions, euthanasia expert Wim Distelmans told the media this Tuesday. He said those numbers are expected to rise. Distelmans is known for his support and active participation in cases of euthanasia for psychological reasons.
No date has been fixed for Van Den Bleeken’s death but his family has indicated that a doctor willing to perform the act has been found. Once the appeals court has given its ruling the prisoner will be allowed to leave the Turnhout prison where he is interned at present, and will be transferred to an unnamed hospital where he will be able to say goodbye to his family before receiving a lethal injection.