Three doctors on trial in Belgium over depressed woman's euthanasia

Protesters demonstrate against the law authorising euthanasia for children, in Brussels on Feb. 11, 2014.Reuters

Three doctors are on trial in Belgium accused of murdering a 38-year-old woman with mental health issues who was euthanised a decade ago. 

Tine Nys, 38, died from lethal injection on 27 April 2010 after her request for euthanasia was signed off by the doctors. 

She had been diagnosed with Asperger's two months before her death, but did not receive treatment for the condition.

Her sisters argue that her condition did not meet the requirement under Belgium euthanasia laws of a "serious and incurable disorder". They claim instead that she suffered from depression.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002 for adults experiencing a "constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated".

In 2014, the laws were widened to permit assisted suicide for children experiencing "constant and unbearable suffering which cannot be eased, and which will cause death in the short term".

Prosecutors have charged the doctors with murder by poisoning.  They face a life sentence in prison if found guilty. 

The doctors deny the charges.  Their lawyers told the court last week that Nys had made a "well-considered" judgement to end her life and that her mental health issues had not prevented her from reaching a rational decision to undergo euthanasia, The Times reports. 

Lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge, acting for the doctor who carried out the lethal injection, said the charge of murder was a "pure disgrace". 

"Our client is designated as a murderer, because this terrible label is stuck on his head by the public prosecutor," he said. 

Pro-life groups are hoping that the case will prompt Belgium to re-consider its euthanasia laws instead of relaxing them further to permit assisted dying for people who have lived a "fulfilled life", as some campaigners are seeking. 

Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: "While this case may be unprecedented, it not only highlights the lack of compassion in countries with assisted suicide and euthanasia laws but also draws attention to the risks and dangers of legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia.

"Tine Nys was a physically healthy woman with her future ahead of her. She should have been offered care and support to alleviate her short-term suffering.

"Assisted suicide clears the way for despair and hopelessness. Where hardship and suffering is, assisted suicide is allowed to take the place of care and compassion as a response."