Deacon behind bars: illegal euthanasia or murder?

A 57-year-old deacon from Wevelgem (West Flanders) has been put behind bars. He is facing charges of illegal euthanasia on several people and even murder. The man used to work as a nurse in the Heilig Hart Hospital - currently called AZ Delta - in Menin.

The deacon is believed to have helped patients put an end to their lives without following the strict regulations. It is also not clear whether the patients gave their full consent.

At a press conference this morning, a spokesman for the local judicial authorities in West Flanders could not confirm that the patients gave their consent, which would change the accusation into "murder". At the same time, he would have been engaged in the practice for a period of 31 years, with possibly many more victims than just 10.

Euthanasia is allowed in Belgium since 2002, but only under strict legal criteria that include "unbearable physical or mental suffering" and "no medical prospects for improvement". Before 2002, euthanasia was banned altogether.

It can only be carried out by a doctor, not by a nurse. The deacon allegedly helped "at least 10 people" terminate their life.  The man continued working half-time at the hospital as a chaplain after 2002, before retiring from the job to become a full-time deacon in 2011. The facts took place between the beginning of the 80ies and 2011. Several  cases relate to the period before 2002, it can be heard. The examining judge decided to extend his custody. He has been in gaol for 1.5 weeks now.

The hospital management has been informed about the case and is said to give its full cooperation. The Bruges diocese made a short statement: "'Euthanasia' and 'deacon' are two words that don't belong in the same sentence."