Belgium: euthanasia – or optional death penalty?

In Belgium euthanasia is no longer limited to the terminally ill. A law court in Brussels has declared admissible the request for euthanasia of a prison inmate who is serving a life sentence, thus transforming euthanasia into an “optional death penalty” for convicted criminals.

Frank Van Den Bleeken, aged 50, is serving a life sentence in a prison near Bruges, Flanders. He has been imprisoned for more than 30 years. In 1989 he was found guilty of raping and strangling 19-year-old Christiane Remacle as she journeyed home from a New Year’s Eve party. Deemed insane and not criminally responsible, he was released after seven years on a prison psychiatric ward. He then attacked three more victims, aged 11, 17 and 29 within weeks of his release. He was then ordered to be detained indefinitely, and has seen “the outside” only once since, when he attended his mother’s funeral.

He claims that he would never be able to overcome his violent sexual impulses, which cause him “unbearable mental suffering”. His lawyer says that during the time he spent in prison, hardly any attempts were made to offer him a therapy against his dangerous sexual proclivities.

According to media reports, Mr. Van Den Bleeken will be “euthanized” next week. In the meantime, at least 15 other prison inmates have submitted similar requests for “euthanasia” to the Belgian law courts.

The country formally abolished the death penalty in 1996, but the last execution took place in 1950. A liberal “euthanasia” law now opens the door for what could be termed “optional death penalty”.