Sunday, February 10, 2019

Research: Euthanasia of prisoners in Belgium.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A Belgian friend and supporter emailed an interesting article, that he translated, concerning research on euthanasia and prisoners in Belgium.

An article by Jan Lippens that was published in the Knack on January 2, 2019 looks at the research by Caroline Devynck concerning euthanasia requests by prisoners in Belgium.

Lippens reports that Between 2011 and 2017, 23 prisoners in Flanders Belgium asked for euthanasia. 18 requests were from men, 5 were from women. There is no indication how many of these requests ended in death. Most of the requests were from prisoners convicted of serious violent or sexual offenses. Criminologist Caroline Devynck contacted 17 of these prisoners for her doctoral research titled "How far can you go before a punishment becomes unworthy?"

Carolyn Devynck
According to Lippens Criminologist Caroline Devynck (VUB) doctoral research, is unique because end-of-life questions from detainees have never been studied scientifically. In November Devynck presented the results of her research at a symposium organized by the Expertise Center 'Worthy End of Life' by Professor Wim Distelmans (VUB), as part of a study tour of the physical and mental impact of life in prisons, but also in hospitals and residential care centers, all institutions where people in extremely dependent situations live.

Distelmans operates a euthanasia clinic in Belgium and he is the chair of the Belgian euthanasia evaluation and control commission.

Frank Van den Bleeken
Lippens explains that euthanasia among prisoners provokes sharp emotional discussions. A few years ago Frank Van den Bleeken asked for euthanasia. Van den Bleeken was convicted of murder and raped several women, but because of a mental illness he had been interned. After thirty years of imprisonment, with no chance of cure, he began a request for euthanasia in 2010 based on unbearable psychological suffering.
Belgium euthanasia and capital punishment.
Lippens interviews Devynck about her research in the article. Devynck explains the characteristics of the prisoners:
There were two requests from people with terminal cancer. The other requests were about unbearable psychological suffering. It was striking that not only the interned but also 'ordinary' detainees applied for euthanasia for that reason.
Most of the prisoners were asking for euthanasia based on a loss of hope or purpose.
With seventeen people who I followed intensively, the question was: what remains of me in life? Some do not stand a chance for penitentiary leave, release on probation or conditional release. After years they come to the conclusion: this is it, my life. They no longer have any perspective, their lives have been reduced to the daily walk and watching TV. They become increasingly isolated. Some do not even go to the walk anymore, because they fear violence from other prisoners, for example. This fear occurred more often among sex offenders.

...The longer people are in prison, the more contacts outside the prison will disappear. Family, friends or acquaintances no longer visit, break all contact or are death. One younger man withdrew his application during my research because he suddenly got another spark of hope from the outside world. I was happy about that.
Devynck states that many of the prisoners were in jail for a long time. She said:
If you have been stuck for more than twenty years, there is not much left. That is existential suffering and also a form of psychological suffering.
Devynck explained that most of the requests for euthanasia came for murders or sexual criminals:
The male applicants were mainly guilty of violent crimes such as murder and manslaughter, or sexual offenses. 
The most distressing conclusion is that 90 per cent of the applicants - including men and women - were themselves sexually or psychologically abused. It changed their self-image. The majority of euthanasia applicants were already older. ...you also saw in certain men that they consider their sexual offenses almost as normal. There was no guilt.... If they then evaluated their lives, they had nothing but misery and pills... They saw their situation as hopeless.
Devnyck states that Wim Distelmans even questions whether it is possible to determine if the requirements of the euthanasia law has been met by these prisoners.

The interview concludes with Devnyck commenting on the "gap in the law." She states:
The gap is in the whole society because care and therapy for those who suffer psychologically is not accessible to everyone. In the context of the prison, that gap is only much clearer. On the one hand, as a society, we advocate self-determination and a worthy end of life, but on the other hand we expect criminals to be severely punished. I understand that some people find life less terrible than the death penalty, but using euthanasia as a covert death penalty simply does not work. The law was never meant for that.
Devnyck's analysis of prisoners who requested euthanasia helps us understand why the wider population requests euthanasia. Her data indicates that only 2 of the 23 prisoners who requested euthanasia, were actually dying. The other 21 requested euthanasia based on psychological suffering. Many of the 21 requests were from prisoners who were never going to be released from prison and had lost hope in living.

The same reality exists for other people in society who request euthanasia. The person may have a significant medical condition, but the person has lost hope or feel that they have no reason to live, they do not want to be a burden on others, or they feel emotionally or psychologically distressed by their life condition. 

Euthanasia is not a freedom or a "victory for autonomy" but rather a social and cultural abandonment of people at a low time of their life.

1 comment:

CL said...

Somehow, I don't feel sorry for them. Not sure why.

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