Belgian Prisoner Wins 'Right to Die'

In a case that may have implications for the treatment of prisoners worldwide, a Belgian sex offender was granted a "right to die" via assisted suicide.

Serving a life sentence, 50 year old Frank Van Den Bleeken, who was convicted in the 1980's of rape and murder, argued he will never be freed. After a three year legal battle, Van Den Bleeken will be allowed to have doctors end his life in a landmark ruling. Since the assisted dying law was introduced by Belgium 12 years ago, this ruling is the first involving a prisoner, and Van Den Bleeken will be transported to a hospital where the procedure to end his life will be carried out.

Citing "unbearable psychological anguish," Van Den Bleeken began requesting euthanasia in 2011. However, Belgium's Federal Euthanasia Commission did not want to agree to such a measure without first considering every possible treatment option.

While euthanasia cases have risen each year since the Commission's inception in 2002, most cases are now uncontroversial, usually concerning elderly and terminally ill patients. But ground is being broken as a prisoner has been granted this "ultimate gesture of humanity." In addition to prisoners, coverage of this legislation has now been extended to cover children who are terminally ill. These laws do not go without their critics.

In January 2013, 45-year-old identical twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who were deaf and then learned they would go blind due to a genetic disorder, opted for euthanasia. In October of 2013, Nathan Verhelst, a transsexual who had several failed sex change operations, asked to die.

Belgium senator Els Van Hoof called these cases deeply troubling, and although she was on the losing side of a vote lifting age restrictions on euthanasia -- she and others were able to alter the law to apply only to children who were terminally ill.