Nurse acquitted of aunt’s mercy killing
14 February 2006
BRUSSELS — Loud applause greeted Antwerp Court’s acquittal on Monday night of a 37-year-old nurse accused of poisoning her aunt at a city hospital.
The Antwerp jury needed just five minutes to come to a decision, clearing Els Op de Weerdt, of Duffel, of any criminal involvement in the death of the 71-year-old Angèle Hoefkens.
Having suffered from alcohol problems for many years, Hoefkens was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis long before she was admitted to the Antwerp University Hospital on 21 January 2000. She was in a lot of pain and was considered terminal.
Op de Weerdt — who was a nurse at the hospital — wanted to end the suffering of her sick aunt and accelerated the normal morphine dose. She also injected her aunt with potassium chloride. Hoefkens died that same night.
Openly admitting to her actions, Op de Weerdt confessed that she should not have done what she did, but stressed also that she could no longer bear to see her aunt suffer.
At the time of Hoefkens’ death, euthanasia was still illegal in Belgium. The public prosecution accused Op de Weerdt of intentionally killing her aunt and brought her to trial.
However, medical experts gave contradictory evidence to the court about whether the morphine and injection of potassium chloride actually accelerated Hoefkens’ death.
And in response to the acquittal, court president Stephaan Bergs said the ruling was not an assessment of euthanasia itself but was a ruling by a well-considered jury over a well-considered case.
“I think that legislation still needs to be refined to prevent similar hearings in future,” Bergs said.
Op de Weerdt reacted happily to her acquittal, but said she was not yet sure whether she would return to work as a nurse.
The chairman of the federal euthanasia commission, Wim Distelmans, also welcomed the ruling: “Right has been spoken in the literal sense of the word”.
The professor at the Free University Brussels (VUB) said further that he had been convinced from the start that Op de Weerdt had acted out of mercy, but absolutely rejected the manner in which she’d ended Hoefkens’ life.
Besides the existing euthanasia commission, Distelmans urged for the establishment of a second inter-disciplinary commission made up of doctors, ethicists and lawyers to asses similar cases.
“You can’t include every decision over life or death in the law. But a commission could give an assessment on a case by case basis,” he said.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news