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Family of mentally ill woman killed by euthanasia doctors takes case to Belgium supreme court

Tine Nys' father and siblings are challenging the veracity of the decision that acquitted the three doctors involved in the case.
Wed Feb 26, 2020 - 7:42 pm EST
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February 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The family of Tine Nys, the young woman who was euthanized 10 years ago in Belgium because of mental illness, is taking the case to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) in Brussels after the three doctors involved in her death were acquitted last month.

At the time of the euthanasia, Nys, 38, had just gone through a difficult breakup with her boyfriend and was depressed. She had also just been diagnosed with autism, a condition for which no therapy was given. On the morning of the day she was killed, she told one of her sisters that she did not know whether she would be able to go ahead with the euthanasia.

The euthanasia itself went anything but smoothly. The “euthanizing” doctor had forgotten several instruments and the woman’s father was obliged to participate so that the euthanasia could proceed.

In another twist to this sad affair, the Chamber of Representatives of the Belgian Parliament, under pressure of several political groups, is expected to decide shortly whether it will seize the High Council for Justice over accusations that the trial was under “undue influence” – that of Catholic opponents to euthanasia, no less.

Regarding the request for Cassation, Tine’s father, two sisters and brother have decided to ask for the highest judiciary court in Belgium to verify the legality of the acquittal of the three doctors. The highest court will have to determine whether a “fault” was committed on their part.

In the absence of a similar act on the part of the public prosecutor, there will be no reversal of the penal verdict, which means that the three doctors are now certain of receiving no public sanction for the killing. Her family, on the other hand, has decided to ask for civil compensation as a matter of principle, because they consider that their daughter and sibling was unlawfully taken from them.

If the Court of Cassation should annul the decision, a new trial without a jury would take place, limited to the civil damages.

The family’s lawyer, Joris Van Cauter, believes they have excellent grounds for this. Speaking to the press, he explained that the verdict is inherently not logical.

One of the doctors, Frank De Greef, was acquitted by the Court of Assises because it appeared that he did not know the informal message he wrote, saying Tine was suffering “unbearably” from Asperger’s syndrome, would be used to kill her. 

De Greef made clear that he was not personally in favor of euthanasia. He did not know that his note would be used the next day as one of the three mandatory opinions allowing her to be killed because of “psychiatric suffering” – a situation that led the Nys family as well as the public prosecutor to ask for his acquittal at the Court of Assizes.

In fact, shortly after the euthanasia in April 2010, the Nys family called the physicians involved, recording their conversations, and De Greef told them he was “also a bit angry” because Dr. Joris V.H., the executing doctor, had been ready “so soon” to accede to Tine’s request. “But I can’t help that either,” he told them, adding that he himself could never give a fatal injection and that he had understood that Tine was still “going to take time to talk things over with her family.”

If De Greef’s note was not a valid document in the euthanasia process, as has been clearly established, it follows that the process itself was illegal, according to Van Couter. “It has been established that the euthanasia law was not duly implemented, but we read nothing about this” in the court’s decision, he said. 

“We shall demonstrate this in cassation, without a jury, and hope that it will be annulled,” he added.

Lawyers of the acquitted doctors struck back, accusing the Nys family of trying to obtain money from the case and of wasting everybody’s time.

To date, the Nys family has only asked for symbolic compensation of one euro.

But the euthanasia party’s irritation has more to do with the fear of seeing doctors in Belgium wary of carrying out euthanasia in the future.

“There are far-reaching consequences for doctors who want to give euthanasia because once again, unrest is being sown,” deplored Walter van Steenbrugghe, counsel of the physician who gave Tine the fatal shot. He accused the family of “procedural stubbornness” with the sole objective of keeping the euthanasia debate open. The result, he said, is that “euthanasia procedures” will remain under “storm clouds” for the coming months.

According to Van Couter, the Nys family is happy that the public prosecution did not appeal the verdict of the Assizes, which would have led to a second trial by jury.

“The trial was an ordeal, three hellish weeks which ended with the death of a family member. It was a human drama,” Van Couter said. “No one wants a new Assizes trial, but the family does want justice, and that is still possible.”

Tine’s mother died after seven days in a coma following cardiac arrest on the day of the verdict, January 31. Health problems had prevented her from giving witness during the trial. Without going so far as saying that the situation was responsible for her death, the Nys’ lawyer said the procedure had been “very hard” on all those involved. The accused actually accused Mrs. Nys of having “hidden” behind her heart condition so as not to have to speak at the hearings.

Meanwhile, the Belgian parliament has been asked to assess what some liberal politicians have called a “turnaround” on the part of the public prosecution in 2017 when “suddenly” Nys’ case was sent to the Assizes.

The Nys family officially filed their complaint on January 5, 2011, 8 1/2 months after Tine was killed. The case was tacitly dismissed more than six years later, when it was decided that it involved a possible violation of criminal law, because of suspicion of “murder” or “poisoning.”

Socialist member of parliament John Crombez complained about this in an interview with De Zevende Dag at the beginning of this month, demanding that both parliament and the Belgian High Council for Justice launch an inquiry. The Belgian federal Parliament is expected to decide whether or not to seize the High Council at its next plenary session on the grounds of “insinuations” that the Catholic Church exerted “undue influence.” To date, socialist and ecologist deputies have supported the demand.

According to Van Steenbrugghe, counsel of the executing doctor, that influence can be traced to Brother René Stockman, the pro-life superior of the Belgian Brothers of Charity. His intervention would be the only “logical” explanation of the fact that the Nys’ case was never explicitly dismissed and then led to outright accusation of murder by the public prosecutor of Ghent in 2017.

According to Van Couter, there is no proof whatsoever of “interference.” 

“About the accusation of Church influence, for example: this is a serious accusation, and it has been made a number of times,” Van Couter said. “But if you do that, you need evidence. And there is none at all. Three independent judges have referred the case to Assizes, and they are now being dismissed as subject to the power of the Church. And they can’t defend themselves. It’s a disgrace.”


  belgian parliament, belgium, court of assizes, court of cassation, euthanasia, frank de greef, high council for justice, joris van cauter, tine nys

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