Belgium has made international headlines after a woman convicted of murdering her five children 16 years ago was euthanized. She had been sentenced to life in prison, and Belgium does not allow the death penalty.
Warning: Details may be disturbing for readers.
Genevieve Lhermitte was convicted in 2008 of killing all five of her children in 2007, whose ages ranged from three to 14. She had killed them by means of stabbing or slitting their throats. According to Spiked Online, Lhermitte methodically lured her children to their deaths; she invited one daughter, Myriam, into her office, telling her to put a blindfold on for a “surprise.” She then hit her over the head with a marble plaque, and then stabbed her to death.
Her lawyers originally claimed Lhermitte was mentally disturbed, but a jury didn’t agree with that assessment and sentenced her to life in prison for premeditated murder.
In 2019, she was moved from prison to a psychiatric hospital, before ultimately requesting euthanasia for “psychological suffering.” She died on the anniversary of her children’s deaths, which psychologist Emilie Maroit told RTL-TVI was a “symbolic choice” made to show respect for her children.
“It may also have been for her to finish what she started, because basically she wanted to end her life when she killed them,” Maroit said.
Her uncle claims she had already suffered enough for her crime. “We saw the psychiatrists and various social workers. She presented her request which we all accepted, fully understanding her choice. She was in a permanent state of suffering,” he said. “Life was no longer possible for [her]. She’s served 1,000 times in her head, people have to understand. It’s not a Christmas present. Euthanasia can be granted for physical but also psychological suffering.”
Belgium allows people to be euthanized if they are deemed to have “unbearable” physical or psychological suffering, and can make the request in a consistent, reasonable manner. Yet Lhermitte was incapable of making such a request, because someone who is a prisoner or is mentally ill cannot freely consent to euthanasia.
Meanwhile, the official Belgian government website decries the death penalty as “a serious violation of human rights and human dignity.” The death penalty was abolished in Belgium in 1996. Yet, Lhermitte was killed via euthanasia instead of living out her life in prison. In other words, Belgium sees the death penalty as a human rights violation while simultaneously viewing the euthanasia of a convicted murderer as acceptable and compassionate. The difference between the two is only who has initiated the death — the court or the prisoner.
Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the Emory School of Medicine, explained, “[F]or both euthanasia and executions, paralytic drugs are used. These drugs, given in high enough doses, mean that a patient cannot move a muscle, cannot express any outward or visible sign of pain. But that doesn’t mean that he or she is free from suffering.” Whether killed under the name of the death penalty or euthanasia, the person can die an agonizing death, drowning as secretions fill their lungs, said Zivot, while to the outside world, they appear at peace.
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