Belgian euthanasia doctor faces criminal charges

A doctor in Belgium could be charged with murder after euthanizing an 85-year-old woman suffering from depression. Marc Van Hoey, one of the leading euthanasia practitioners in Belgium, is facing criminal prosecution after supplying a liquid barbiturate to elderly woman Simona De Moor.

Belgium’s Federal Commission of Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia has reviewed over 8000 reported cases of euthanasia, yet this is the first time since legalisation in 2002 that it has referred a case to a public prosecutor.

On June 22 Van Hoey was filmed by an Australian documentary crew administering the barbiturate to De Moor, who died just five minutes later. Van Hoey said in the documentary that he was assisting De Moor as she was suffering from “reactive depression”.

De Moor’s daughter had recently passed away, and she had subsequently spiralled into depression. After a few months of prescribing anti-depressants, Van Hoey deemed it acceptable to agree to De Moor’s request for euthanasia.

“I started with the medication, the treatment, she took it for a few weeks or months but her request is still going on,” said Dr Van Hoey in the documentary. “She wants to die because she’s had it.”

“If there are any doubts regarding the conditions, we must pass it on to the courts,” said the chairman of Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Review and Evaluation Commission, Dr Wim Distelmans, in an article that appeared in De Standaard this week.

Van Hoey maintains his innocence: "I believe this will cause a shockwave among all physicians and people involved in euthanasia in good faith,” he told De Standaard.

He is currently co-operating with authorities.

Some experts see the incident as an example of the dangers of legalising euthanasia:

“I think it is very important to say that once you open the door and you think you are going to control euthanasia or assisted suicide, it’s an illusion,” said Carine Brochier, project manager of the Brussels-based European Institute for Bioethics. “It’s an illusion to believe you can control what goes on between a doctor and a patient in a room.”

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | Belgium, euthanasia, existential suffering

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