Belgian trial is unveiling dark back story to euthanasia death of Tine Nys
By Michael Cook
January 26, 2020

Psychiatrist Godelieve Thienpont

Psychiatrist Godelieve Thienpont

The criminal trial of three Belgian doctors for assisting in the allegedly illegal euthanasia of a woman with “unbearable psychological suffering” in 2010 is under way. The doctors have been named: Joris van Hove, Frank de Greef and psychiatrist Godelieve Thienpont. A few intriguing facts have emerged.

The life of Tine Nys grew sadder with the testimony of each witness. She had been estranged from her family for years. She experienced violence in her relationships, she had an abortion, she had worked as a prostitute. “Everything in her life was a failure,” said Dr Thienpoint, who diagnosed her as autistic not long before the death.

The main lawyer for the parents and two sisters of Tine was forced to step down over an bizarre conflict of interest. The head of Belgium’s euthanasia evaluation commission, Wim Distelmans, revealed that Fernand Keuleneer had been a non-voting member of the euthanasia committee which approved her request. He has been replaced by Joris Van Cauter.

How the doctors broke the Belgian euthanasia law became clearer. Tine had asked Dr de Greef for a letter authorising euthanasia, but he refused. So she went to LEIF, a euthanasia agency, and found Dr van Hove. Dr van Hove dropped by Dr de Greef on the evening of April 27, 2010 at 8pm and asked him to sign a paper. Apparently de Greef misunderstood, because he was aghast when he learned that Tine had been euthanised.

This occasioned two breaches of the conditions which shield doctors from prosecution for murder. First, Dr van Hove falsely listed Dr de Greef as the first doctor confirming that Tine was eligible for euthanasia. Second, the paperwork arrived at the euthanasia commission nearly four weeks late.

This worries euthanasia doctors. One told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, “As a doctor, will you still run the risk of performing euthanasia if you know that with that you run the risk of being prosecuted for premeditated murder? Just because your euthanasia certificate did not arrive at the committee within four days?”

Dr Joris van Hove’s seedy background was highlighted in the media coverage. He has been in court before for various offenses. In 2017 he was convicted of sex offences with young male patients and received a two-year suspended sentence.

However, Dr van Hove told the court that the euthanasia procedure had been carried out within the law. He protested that the very fact that the case had reached the stage of prosecution was a victory for the “hidden agenda” of the Catholic Church.

He admitted that he had never done a euthanasia for psychological suffering before and that he had been clumsy. He had not completed his “end of life” training and he failed to administer the lethal injection properly. He did not have a stand for the infusion and the bag plopped onto Tine’s face as she was saying goodbye to her family.

The general practitioner, Dr Frank de Greef, painted himself as the victim of a charming but manipulative young woman and her angry relatives. When she was diagnosed as autistic by Dr Thienpont, he was thunderstruck. “When I saw that diagnosis, I thought: What kind of stupid person have I been? Look at its history, everything could be explained by that autism. Tine was engaging and intellectual, but also manipulative and looking for conflict.”

The trial continues.