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Belgium Agrees To Euthanize Man Convicted Of Murder, Rape

Inmate Frank Van Den Bleeken, seen here in court last autumn, says he wants to die because he sees no progress in the mental problems that were linked to his crimes of murder and rape. Herman Ricour/AP hide caption

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Herman Ricour/AP

Inmate Frank Van Den Bleeken, seen here in court last autumn, says he wants to die because he sees no progress in the mental problems that were linked to his crimes of murder and rape.

Herman Ricour/AP

In a country whose laws don't allow for the death penalty, the case of a Belgian man who sees himself as a threat to society — and wants to die — is putting new focus on Belgium's health care and justice system, as well as its laws allowing euthanasia.

After an appeals court in Brussels approved a deal allowing inmate Frank Van Den Bleeken to die from an assisted suicide, the country's justice minister cleared the way for his transfer to a hospital late Monday.

Convicted of rape and murder, Van Den Bleeken has been in prison for nearly 30 years. Now in his 50s, he recently asked to die because he hasn't seen any improvement in the psychological problems that have been linked to his crimes.

"He has clearly said that he didn't want to leave prison because he didn't want to risk creating further victims," Van Den Bleeken's Jos Vander Velpen tells the AP.

The case is being widely discussed in Belgium, where some worry that the prisoner's euthanasia could lead to a de facto death penalty. Others worry that other inmates may want to follow Van Den Bleeken's example; a story today in De Standard says 15 inmates may also seek euthanasia.

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But some people also see the situation as a sign of a failed system. As the site Flanders News points out about Van Den Bleeken:

"The court found he could not be held to account for his acts due to his mental state. He should have been interned and given mental treatment, but ended up in an ordinary jail where he wasn't given the psychiatric support he required."

The site spoke to Dr. Wim Distelmans, an expert in palliative care, who said:

"That's an elementary right for patients and all people. We should offer him a humane existence. Surely, we are not going to carry out euthanasia because we can't offer an alternative?"

As the AP reports, the decision to allow Van Den Bleeken to be euthanized came after he posed an ultimatum to the authorities, as the prisoner "requested a transfer for treatment at a specialized psychiatric center in the Netherlands or, failing that, a mercy killing."