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Appeals court overturns acquittal in euthanasia case
The acquittal of one of the doctors involved in the high-profile euthanasia case earlier this year has been overturned by the Court of Cassation. Although physician Joris Van Hove (pictured) will not face criminal charges again, three judges will hear arguments as to whether he followed procedures when signing off and administering euthanasia.
The criminal trial in January of two physicians and one psychiatrist was a media sensation and re-opened the debate as to whether euthanasia should be administered to patients with severe psychological problems.
The case was brought to court by three siblings of Tine Nys, who received euthanasia in 2010 for psychological suffering. It was the first court case involving the administration of euthanasia in the country since the law allowing it was passed in 2002.
The siblings claim that the procedure required to carry out euthanasia in Belgium was not followed properly and sought convictions of murder or manslaughter for Nys’ family doctor, Van Hove and the psychologist who signed off on the procedure. A jury acquitted all three, but admitted that it was “impossible to determine with certainty if the conditions required by law had been infringed”.
The siblings were particularly concerned about the behaviour of Dr Van Hove, who administered the euthanasia. Their lawyer, Joris Van Cauter, appealed the decision to acquit Van Hove of any wrongdoing to the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the country.
The court agreed that the criminal proceedings against Van Hove did not sufficiently interpret the law and ordered a new hearing. It will not be a criminal hearing, however; as a jury has acquitted Van Hove of criminal activity, he will not be retried for that.
The new hearing will determine if Van Hove broke the law that governs euthanasia procedures. If the three judges determine that he did, he may have to pay damages to the Nys family.
“The family just wants justice,” said Van Cauter. “The trial clearly showed that the euthanasia law was not respected on several occasions during the process. What will be considered in the new hearing is the heart of the matter: Did the doctor adhere to legal requirements or not?”
Photo: Dr Joris Van Hove (centre) at the original trial in January ©Nicolas Maeterlinck