Etienne Vermeersch hailed from a Roman Catholic family from Bruges. He became a Jesuit but broke with religion at the age of 25 becoming a militant atheist and sceptic. He steered intellectual debate in Flanders for over four decades. In 1979 he wrote that paedophiles hadn't requested their sexual preference and were not evil, but he stressed that sex should be the result of a voluntary choice by people capable of taking this decision.
In the Eighties he opined on ethical issues including abortion and euthanasia laying a basis for legislation in these two fields. Following the death of failed asylum seeker Semira Adamu during a repatriation attempt Prof Vermeersch headed a commission that drew up rules for repatriations. He rejected far right ideologies, but was one of the signatories of a manifesto stating that an independent Flanders should be seen as a future possibility. He championed the LEIF card too that sets out your end of life wishes. In recent years he also concentrated on environmental issues.