Veteran lawyer forced to step down from euthanasia trial

Veteran lawyer forced to step down from euthanasia trial
Lawyers Fernand Keuleneer (left) and his replacement Joris Van Cauter © Belga

Fernand Keuleneer, the veteran lawyer representing the interests of the brother and sisters of Tine Neys in the trial of three doctors who approved her for euthanasia, has been forced to step down from the trial after it emerged he had sat on the euthanasia committee which approved her request.

The trial is currently going on in the high court in Ghent. Keuleneer’s place will be taken over by Joris Van Cauter, who is representing Neys’ parents in the same matter. His appointment ensures the trial can go ahead without delay, as he is already fully up to date with the case.

Three doctors – Tine Nys’ own GP, a psychiatrist and the doctor who actually administered the fatal dose of medication, are on trial charged with poisoning Nys in April 2010. She had requested euthanasia for “unbearable psychological suffering” – a controversial interpretation of the euthanasia law passed in 2002. She had a history of childhood psychiatric problems and suicide attempts. She first raised the subject of euthanasia at Christmas 2009, and the procedure went forward four months later.

Her sister Sophie approached a psychiatrist in July 2010 and asked him to act as a person of confidence and consult the case files. The psychiatrist, Dr Erik Thys, approached one of the accused days later, and explained the sister wanted more information to help her cope with the bereavement.

The case files were not provided, and in fact would not be seen until 2016. By that time the sisters had filed a complaint alleging that the procedures laid down in the 2002 law had not been followed correctly.

That view was contradicted by the Federal Commission for Euthanasia Control and Evaluation, which looks at all euthanasia cases after the fact, and which declared the case had been carried out correctly in August 2010.

But present on the commission as a temporary substitute that day was Fernand Keuleneer, a fact revealed by its chair, Dr Wim Distelmans, who appeared in court as a witness yesterday.

It remains unclear why Keuleneer thought it fitting to take on the defence of the family of Nys given his previous involvement in the case from the other side. He described the issue as “a storm in a teacup” and pointed out that as a replacement committee member he had no vote on the issue itself. In any case, his presence led to the intervention of the head of the Ghent bar, who ordered that Keuleneer must step down.

The case in court proceeded after half a day’s delay, allowing Keuleneer to explain the situation to his erstwhile clients, and them to consult with replacement counsel Van Cauter.

Keuleneer, now aged 63, is a prominent members of legal associations of Brussels and Flemish lawyers. He was also the legal representative for the late Cardinal Danneels in 2010 when detectives searched the archbishop’s palace in Mechelen for evidence relating to child abuse. He is also an opinion-maker, and one of the founders of the magazine Nucleus.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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