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World Belgium approves euthanasia plea from rapist with untreated, violent urges

Frank van den Bleeken is shown on Panorama, a public-affairs show on the Flemish TV channel Canvas.

CANVAS

Unable to get prison authorities to provide treatment of his violent sexual urges, a convicted rapist in Belgium has been granted the right to be euthanized and is expected to die within days.

For three decades, 50-year-old Frank van den Bleeken, a rapist and murderer, has spent long stretches in solitary confinement, trying in vain to get psychiatric treatment.

The unprecedented case not only pushes further the controversial application of the country's euthanasia law but also underlines the shortcoming of the Belgian penal system.

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Belgium does not have the death penalty, but has been criticized for failing to provide mentally ill offenders with adequate therapy.

Mr. van den Bleeken and his lawyer had been waging a three-year legal battle to get him to be treated in a Dutch forensic psychiatric clinic because Belgium had no such facility.

However, on Monday, the lawyer, Jos Vander Velpen, told Belgian media that his client had reached a deal with judicial authorities to transfer him to a hospital where he had found a doctor willing to perform the euthanasia procedure.

"It is not up to the courts or the justice system to adjudicate this because euthanasia is a matter for doctors and only doctors can decide," Mr. Vander Velpen told reporters.

Mr. Vander Velpen could not be contacted Tuesday. In an interview with The Globe and Mail earlier this year, he said his client felt he had reached a dead end and couldn't bear spending the rest of his life in such conditions.

"Two prominent psychiatrists have seen him and said this is a man who is suffering in an unbearable, enduring way and that his mental condition can never be treated properly. That's why he's asking to be euthanized, because he's suffering in an unbearable way," Mr. Vander Velpen said.

In speaking with Belgian media Monday, Mr. Vander Velpen said his client would be transferred to a hospital within 48 hours to bid farewell to his family. He said he could not say when or where the euthanasia procedure would take place.

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Belgium has been cited several times by the European Court of Human Rights for failing to provide appropriate care to inmates with mental disorders. In January, the court ruled in favour of three Belgian inmates and ordered damages be paid, citing a "structural shortcoming" that resulted in about 1,000 prisoners with mental problems being held in aging, overcrowded, inadequately staffed special prison wings.

According to Dirk Leestmans, a television reporter, who first interviewed him in 2001, Mr. van den Bleeken had been asking for the right to die even before Belgium adopted its euthanasia law in 2002.

"He's done horrible things but he's self-aware and lucid," Mr. Leestmans told The Globe and Mail earlier this year.

Mr. van den Bleeken had a troubled childhood, spent in institutional care, where he was sexually abused. In the late 1980s, he committed several rapes in the port of Antwerp, killing one victim, a 19-year-old woman.

At his trial, he was found to be not criminally responsible and was committed to the psychiatric wing of Merksplas, an aging penal complex near Antwerp.

More recently he has been held in another psychiatric wing, at Turnhout, a century-old prison.

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"My life has now absolutely no meaning. They may as well put a flowerpot here," Mr. van den Bleeken told Mr. Leestmans in a Flemish-language documentary broadcast last year by the Belgian TV channel Canvas.

"I am a danger to society," Mr. van den Bleeken also said in the same interview. "Outside of these walls there is a great risk that I would do it again."

Mr. Leestmans said Mr. van den Bleeken is kept in his cell 23 hours a day. After he remarked in his TV interview that he might attempt suicide, he was checked every 15 minutes.

In Canada, there are laws against both assisted suicide (where another person, for example a doctor or a relative, supplies the means of suicide, such pills) and voluntary euthanasia (where a doctor or someone else takes a person's life at the person's request).

However, the Quebec legislature adopted on June 5 allowing doctors to apply terminal palliative sedation to help gravely ill patients who wish to die.

Quebeckers applying for the procedure have to be over the age of 18; be suffering from a grave, incurable illness or an advanced state of irreversible decline; and face unbearable physical or mental pain. In addition, the application has to be made in a free and informed manner.

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