A New First for Belgium: Prisoner Euthanasia

For the first time, a Belgian prisoner has been euthanized. A man identified as Frank V.D.B, who had spent 20 years in prison for two murders and rapes, died recently. The date is not clear from media reports, but it took place outside the prison. The death only became known because it was revealed by a politician, Senator Louis Ide, who was complaining about the lack of social services in Belgian jails. He seems to have been tipped off by a prison official.

The case has provoked a controversy in the media -not over euthanasia but over the violation of the prisoner’s right to privacy. All of the conditions for euthanasia in Belgium were carefully fulfilled: the prisoner had a terminal illness, he had made repeated requests for death, and three doctors had independently ratified the request.

The head of the Belgian prison service defended the system against M. Ide’s criticism. “The people on the ground are doing their best and work hard. But it is almost impossible for two people to take proper care of an prisoner. This is a problem in many prisons”, Francis Van Mol told the media.

Another prisoner — in jail for 27 years for two murders — has also asked for euthanasia. His request has not been approved yet.

Euthanasia for prisoners obviously poses significant moral dilemmas. Belgium’s euthanasia laws were written for people who are not incarcerated and living completely under government control. However euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke anticipated this situation and praised it as possibly “the last frontier in prison reform” in his 2005 book Killing Me Softly. The latest development seems to suggest that Belgium is becoming the world leader in innovative application of euthanasia laws. Last year Belgian surgeons revealed that they had been harvesting organs obtained from persons who had requested euthanasia.


Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia.

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