Belgian Stories in the News

Godelieva de Troyer (64)

Godelieva de Troyer (64)

was euthanised in 2012 for “untreatable depression” which was “largely the result of a break-up with a man, but also due to her feelings of distance from her family.” [1] After her treating psychiatrist of more than 20 years confirmed that she was not eligible, she doctor-shopped and received a lethal injection from oncologist Dr Wim Distelmans. [2]

Her son, Tom Mortier, found out about her death when the hospital contacted him the next day to retrieve her body from the morgue. [3]

In January 2019 the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear Mr Mortier’s case arguing that Belgium failed to protect his mother. [2]




Nathan Verhelst (44)

Nathan Verhelst (44)

was euthanised in 2013 because sex-change surgery did not work as desired and caused him unbearable psychological suffering.

He said his brothers were celebrated, but his mother told him, “If only you had been a boy.” [6]

Oncologist Dr Wim Distelmans administered the lethal injection.

Photo: Facebook

Emily / Laura (24)

Emily / Laura (24)

was granted permission in 2015 to have euthanasia for suicidal thoughts and self-harm, even though she was physically healthy. She claimed, “Life, that’s not for me.” [4] 

On the day of the scheduled lethal injection, she changed her mind at the last minute. [5]  

(Photo by YouTube / The Economist)



Marc and Eddy Verbessem (45)

Marc and Eddy Verbessem (45)

were born deaf and requested euthanasia after they discovered that they may also become blind. They were not suffering any physical pain.

After their request was refused by their local hospital, it took them two years to find another medical institution to administer the lethal injection. Dr Wim Distelmans administered the lethal injection on the grounds of ‘unbearable psychological suffering’. 

Their brother and parents tried to talk them out of it. Their father said, “I sometimes think, if they had their own wives and children, perhaps they would have had something to live for.” [7]

Photo: Gazette Van Antwerpen


The Belgian Euthanasia Law

Belgium decriminalised voluntary euthanasia  in 2002. In this Act “euthanasia is defined as intentionally terminating life by someone other than the person concerned, at the latter’s request.” [8]

In 2014 the age limit was removed, extending eligibility also to terminally ill children with parental consent. [9]

The law requires that:

– the patient is “legally competent and conscious at the moment of making the request”

– “the request is voluntary, well-considered and repeated, and is not the result of any external pressure;”

– “the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that can not be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.” [8]

Belgium consists of three main regions:


  • Flanders, mainly Flemish-speaking (similar to Dutch)
  • Wallonia, mainly French-speaking, and
  • Brussels, which is bilingual.




2,309 people were euthanised in Belgium in 2017. 

78% of these euthanasia deaths were reported in Flemish, which means they likely occurred in the Flanders region. [10]

During 2014 to 2017 there were 73 people who received euthanasia for depression or other mood disorders. [10]


Researchers sent anonymous questionnaires to doctors who signed death certificates in the Flanders region and found:

  • In 2007, 32% of all euthanasia deaths occurred without the patient’s explicit request. This is equivalent to 1.8% of all deaths in the region. [11] [12]  In 2013, that rate was 1.7% of all deaths in the region. [13]
  •  The lethal dose was injected by a nurse in 12% of the cases, even though the law allows only doctors to do this. Of these cases administered by nurses, 45% occurred without the patient’s explicit request. [14]
  • 47.2% of euthanasia cases were not reported to the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee, as required by the law.
    Unreported cases were generally “dealt with less carefully” than reported cases:
    • A written request for euthanasia was more often absent.
    • Other physicians and caregivers specialised in palliative care were consulted less often.
    • Opioids and sedatives were used more often to end a person’s life. 
    • The drugs were more often administered by a nurse. [15]



[1]  ADF International. (2015, June 15). Case of doctor who killed depressed woman goes back to Belgian criminal court. Retrieved from

[2] ADF International. (2019, January 8). Landmark euthanasia case to be heard by human rights court. Retrieved from

[3] Waterfield, B. (2015, February 2). Son challenges Belgian law after mother’s ‘mercy killing’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

[4] Boyle, D. (2015, June 28). Belgian doctors give healthy woman, 24, green light to die by euthanasia because of ‘suicidal thoughts’. Daily Mail. Retrieved from

[5] Myall, S. (2015, Nov 13). Woman aged 24 granted right to die posts farewell message on YouTube – but changed mind at the last minute. Daily Mirror. Retrieved from

[6] Waterfield, B. (2013, Oct 2). Mother of sex change Belgian: ‘I don’t care about his euthanasia death’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

[7] Waterfield, B. (2013, Jan 14). Euthanasia twins ‘had nothing to live for’. The Telegrapgh. Retrieved from

[8] The Belgian Act on Euthanasia of May, 28th 2002. Ethical Perspectives 9 (2002)2-3, p.182-187. Retrieved from

[9] BBC News. (2014, 13 February). Belgium’s parliament votes through child euthanasia. Retrieved from

[10] Commission fédérale de Contrôle et d’Évaluation de l’Euthanasie. (2018). Huitième rapport aux Chambres législatives années 2016 – 2017. Pp. 2, 46. Retrieved from

[11]  Chambaere, K., Bilsen, J., Cohen, J., et al. (2010). Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium: a population-based survey. CMAJJune 15, 2010 182 (9) 895-901; DOI: Retrieved from

[12]  Bilsen, J., Cohen, J., Chambaere, K., & Pousset, G., et al. (2009). Medical end-of-life practices under the euthanasia law in Belgium. N Engl J Med 2009; 361:1119-1121 doi: 10.1056/NEJMc0904292. Retrieved from

[13]  Chambaere, K., Vander Stichele, R., Mortier, F., Cohen, J., & Deliens, L. (2015). Recent trends in euthanasia and other end-of-life practices in Belgium. N Engl J Med 2015; 372:1179-1181 doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1414527. Retrieved from

[14]  Inghelbrecht, E., Bilsen, J., Mortier, F., & Deliens, L. (2010). The role of nurses in physician-assisted deaths in Belgium. CMAJJune 15, 2010, 182 (9) 905-910 DOI: Retrieved from

[15]  Smets, T., Bilden, J., Cohen, J., Rurup, M.L., Mortier, F., & Deliens, L. (2010). Reporting of euthanasia in medical practice in Flanders, Belgium: cross sectional analysis of reported and unreported cases. BMJ 2010;341:c5174 doi:10.1136/bmj.c5174. Retrieved from