Tine Nys (centre) with her sisters
Another euthanasia scandal in Belgium. Two sisters have complained on a television program, Terzake, about the euthanasia of their sister. Tine Nys was 38 at the time and had broken up with her live-in boyfriend. On Christmas Eve 2009 she announced that she was going to be euthanased.
After interviews with doctors, she was given a lethal injection on April 24, 2010, with her mother and father and her two sisters, Lotte and Sophie, at her bedside.
Belgium allows people to request euthanasia if they have unbearable psychological suffering, not just a terminal illness. Tine was obviously a troubled woman and 15 years before she had been seeing a psychiatrist regularly. But she was recovering from a love affair, not suffering unbearable mental anguish.
Three doctors were supposed to concur that she met all requirements: a psychiatrist and two other doctors. This time a psychiatrist casually made a diagnosis of “autism”. The sickness from which euthanasia candidates are suffering is supposed to be incurable. Autism may not be curable, but Tine was functioning adequately. None of the doctors made an effort to treat her – but they were willing to kill her.
What horrified her sisters was their callousness and how little interest they took in persuading her to live.
The day of her death was immensely distressing for the family. The doctor was so incompetent that he failed to bring bandages to hold fast the needle for the lethal injection. Instead, he asked Tine’s father to hold it on her arm. There was no place to hang the infusion bag with the toxic drug so the doctor placed it on the arm of Tine’s armchair. To the dismay of her grieving family, it plopped onto her face as she died. Then the doctor asked her parents to use his stethoscope to see that she was well and truly dead.
The doctor even described Tine’s death as “a lethal injection administered to a favourite pet to end its suffering”.
Even though defenders of Belgian euthanasia claim that safeguards are an integral part of the system, none of them seem to have worked. Tine had shopped around for compliant doctors and the three who ticked the boxes had not communicated with each other. The paperwork was not done within the legally required time. However, the government’s euthanasia commission still approved the doctor’s handiwork.
Lotte and Sophie described the death to the Terzake journalist as an act of “perverse” cruelty.
“I hope this was bad luck, but I fear that this is not an isolated case,” said Joris Vandenberghe, a Flemish psychiatrist, told Terzake. “This is really very worrying. “The bar for euthanasia should be higher.”
The teary television interview has succeeded in getting some politicians to express misgivings about euthanasia. A former finance minister and he head of the Flemish Christian Democrats in the Belgian Senate, Steven Vanackere, now says that there are many shortcomings in the law, that the definition of mental suffering is too loose and that in 13 years only one case had been forwarded to the police.
On the other hand, it seems clear that most Belgian politicians and voters support the law. Tine Nys’s sisters have said that they don’t oppose the principle of euthanasia. So even if they investigate the appalling treatment she received, the euthanasia juggernaut will roll on.
But what if the complaint of these women is the tip of an iceberg of unresolved grief over euthanasia? It took them more than five years to bring their story before the public. What if euthanasia is so painful a topic for families that they cannot bring themselves to complain until many years afterwards, as happens with cases of childhood sexual abuse?
Euthanasia was only legalised in Belgium in 2002. Eventually Belgium could be buried under an avalanche of pent-up sorrow. A single death touches an entire family – and the doctor as well. If only a small proportion of cases were as incompetent and callous as Tine’s, there could be scores, if not hundreds of patients whose loved ones are suffering from repressed grief and anger. Who knows? Sooner or later, however, Belgians will find out.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.