Accepting a mentally ill prisoner's request to be executed shows up the madness of Belgium's euthanasia laws.
early 20 years after Belgium abolished the death penalty – and 64 years after it's last execution – the Belgian courts have agreed to a prisoner's request for a state execution. The prisoner, Frank Van Den Bleeken, sought the right to be executed because he was 'suffering unbearably' from a life-long psychiatric condition, according to his lawyer Jos Vander Velpen.
Despite a verdict of diminished responsibility – Van Den Bleeken was declared insane – he was imprisoned for murder and serial rape 30 years ago. He argued that he will never be released from jail because he is unable to control his violent sexual impulses. His lawyer declined to elaborate on his client's psychiatric condition or to discuss when the medically assisted suicide would take place, citing his client's right to privacy. Van Den Bleeken complained in a television documentary that 'my life has now absolutely no meaning. They may as well put a flower pot here.'
Last year, Belgium extended the right to request euthanasia to children of any age; this year, it has extended this right to prisoners. Though the term 'slippery slope' may not be ideal, anyone who doubts that once voluntary euthanasia is allowed, more and more groups will demand it, has only to look at Belgium's recent history of voluntary deaths. After Van Den Bleeken was granted his request, 15 more prisoners immediately lodged requests for euthanasia.
Does granting a right to request euthanasia to prisoners represent the return of the death penalty for Belgium? Some claim that the death penalty, certainly as it's applied in the US, is very different from Belgium's euthanasia laws. In Vice, Natasha Lennard wrote: 'Belgium's liberal euthanasia laws, broad enough to encompass mental anguish and the imprisoned, in some ways stand as an illustrative counterpoint to a US system that maintains an archaic enforcement of barbaric death penalties and (for the most part) a refusal to grant an individual's liberty to end his or her own life, even in cases of terminal disease.'
For Lennard, then, Belgium is creating a liberal system of execution as opposed to the America's illiberal system of execution. This comparison demands a bit more interrogation. Many US death-row prisoners decline to challenge their death sentences and assent to execution. Is this acceptable to Lennard and other euthanasia-liberals? In the jurisdictions in the US that have the death penalty, execution only takes place once a jury of 12 of the accused's peers decide that the prisoner is guilty. The elected state legislature decides the penalty, and an elected judge hands down the sentence. Numerous appeals may be lodged and the sentence may be commuted by another elected official. In Belgium, doctors will execute a madman (by the same method as in most US states) when he declares that he is suffering unbearable psychic pain, that his condition is incurable, and that he therefore wants to be killed. Which system is more barbaric – Belgium's or America's?
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