All three doctors standing trial in Ghent for poisoning Tine Neys in the course of a response to her request for euthanasia have been acquitted by a jury.
“This is a great burden lifted from my heart,” said one of the accused, psychiatrist Lieve Thienpont. “We have been carrying this for ten years.”
The court heard how Tine was a severely troubled young woman with a history of childhood psychiatric problems and depression later in life, including many expressions of suicidal thoughts and even some attempts.
When she made an approach to her doctor to request euthanasia on the grounds of intolerable psychological suffering in 2010, that began the process laid down in Belgium’s euthanasia law of 2002.
The procedure was carried out, but almost immediately the family of Tine – parents, brother and two sisters – raised objections to the way the procedure had been carried out, objections which led to charges of manslaughter against her GP (who has not been named for publication), Dr Thienpont and the doctor who carried out the procedure, Joris Van Hove.
All three were charged with manslaughter, with the aggravating circumstance of poisoning.
But the jury found all three not guilty, yet with a slight difference of appreciation. In its motivated verdict, the jury expressed no doubt over the GP and Dr Thienpont’s innocence of the charge, but some remaining doubt in the case of Dr Van Hove.
“The verdict is that there is reasonable doubt on the part of the court in regard to Joris Van Hove,” the lead judge announced. “And if there is reasonable doubt, that works in favour of the accused.” Dr Van Hove was therefore equally innocent.
Dr Thienpont, the verdict said, could not be held guilty in any way, as she had followed procedure exactly. As for the GP, he did not even realise the euthanasia was set to go ahead. No fault could be found with either of the two.
On the announcement of the acquittal, the public gallery broke into applause and had to be called to order by the judge. The family of Tine left the courtroom immediately and declined any comment.
Dr Thienpont explained what the whole decade-long affair had meant. “This has meant ten years of imposed silence, because under no circumstances were we able to defend ourselves, and that’s like biting off your own tongue. It was a huge relief to be able to speak in the end. And now there’s an enormous relief that it’s all behind us. I am unbelievably happy for my children and grand-children, that they don’t have to carry with them the stamp of murderer.”
Professor Wim Distelmans, who chairs the euthanasia commission that originally approved the procedure, said he was “relieved” at the verdict. “The euthanasia commission was under fire for a long time, but now it seems they did their job well. I’m very relieved. This verdict has been worth the wait.”