A Belgian court has cleared three doctors accused of murder in a landmark case of criminal euthanasia. They were accused of unlawfully poisoning their patient since it was alleged that she did not fulfil the conditions to be euthanised. The three doctors who faced prosecution were those whose signatures were required for the procedure: the doctor who administered the lethal injection, the patient’s former general practitioner and a psychiatrist.

The deceased’s family had complained that the euthanasia was carried out in an amateurish manner and that the deceased did not have an incurable mental disorder. Under Belgian law, euthanasia can be requested by adults who face unberable physical or mental suffering due to a serious and incurable disorder.

Read the full article on The Guardian: Doctors acquitted in Belgium’s first criminal euthanasia case

Analysis:

Supporters of euthanasia and doctors who administer euthanasia are feeling reassured by the Belgian court’s decision. Many doctors had halted their procedures because they were afraid of the legal consequences of facing murder charges, A conviction in this case would have set a precedent that would have made doctors nervous about signing euthanasia papers and patients concerned that they may not be able to determine how they die.

But lingering questions remain: what counts as unbearable physical and psychological pain (the conditions for granting euthanasia) and how do medical practitioners begin to ascertain these for their patients? Since doctors are charged with the treatment of their patients, at what point do they shift gears and start thinking whether to end someone’s life versus how to prolong someone’s life? How do you make life-and-death decisions in the practice of medicine? There are still many unanswered bioethical questions, as well as opportunities for abuse of the system. 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Do you think euthanasia should become legal in Singapore? Why or why not?
  2. Do doctors face a conflict of interest in deciding whether they should euthanise their patients? Why or why not?

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘acquittal’: a judgement or verdict that a person is not guilty of the crime with which they have been charged
  2. ‘landmark’: an event or discovery marking an important stage or turning point in something

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