• Dr Marc Van Hoey with Simona de Moor. (SBS Dateline)
A leading euthanasia practitioner in Belgium is facing possible criminal charges after performing the voluntary euthanasia of an 85-year-old patient for incurable depression.
29 Oct 2015 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 19 Nov 2015 - 11:52 AM

It’s the first time a euthanasia case has been passed on for judicial review since the nation legalised the practice in 2002.
 
The review comes after the case featured in last month's Dateline story Allow Me To Die exploring the nature of Belgium’s euthanasia laws and practice.  
 
As part of the television investigation, SBS journalist Brett Mason filmed 85-year-old Simona de Moor, who was not terminally ill, being euthanised by Dr Marc Van Hoey.

“If there are any doubts regarding the conditions, we must pass it on to the courts,” said the chairman of Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Review and Evaluation Commission, Dr Wim Distelmans, in an article that appeared in De Standaard overnight.
 
By law, Belgian doctors must report every case of euthanasia they perform to the nation’s Federal Euthanasia Review and Evaluation Commission.
 
This commission consists of 16 active members - mainly doctors, lawyers and ethicists - who assess and review the details of each case to ensure it meets the grounds of the law.
 
If there is doubt around the legality of a case and it is not approved by at least two-thirds of the Commission’s members, it must be passed to a public prosecutor where the doctor could face criminal law charges.
 
More than 8,000 cases of euthanasia have been reported since Belgium’s euthanasia law was introduced 13 years ago. Until now, not one has been passed on for judicial investigation.
 
The doctor in question, Dr Marc Van Hoey, is also a chairman of one of Belgium’s main euthanasia advocacy groups, Right to Die.
 
He claims to have performed "hundreds” of cases of euthanasia since the law passed and conducts regular public seminars about the practice.   
 
He told a local Belgian media outlet he believes he has made no mistakes in the case of Simona de Moor. "I believe this will cause a shockwave among all physicians and people involved in euthanasia in good faith,” he said.
 
“Myself and the case files are completely at the disposal of the court and everything can be found in the [Dateline] documentary where the woman states herself that she wants to die.”

At the time of filming Dr Marc Van Hoey told Dateline that his patient was experiencing unbearable psychological suffering stemming from the death of her daughter.
 
After unsuccessfully treating her with anti-depressive medication, he found her suffering to be incurable.
 
He said Mrs de Moor had no history of mental illness and her request to die was repeated and voluntary, so he was confident her request was made with sound clarity and judgement.
 
“I started with the medication, the treatment, she took it for a few weeks or months but her request is still going on,” said Dr Van Hoey in the documentary. “She wants to die because she’s had it.”
 
Asked in the documentary to clarify in medical terms the official cause of Simona’s unbearable suffering, Dr Van Hoey replied, “Reactive depression, certainly.”

“As a result of her daughter’s death?”, asks SBS journalist Brett Mason.  

“Yes,” replies Dr Van Hoey. “And I will mark that on the death certificate. It’s a natural death. Euthanasia is a natural death, and then the second step will be untreatable depression. Next line will be, the death of her only daughter.”

The case could see Belgium’s euthanasia laws, considered to be the most liberal in the world, face renewed scrutiny.
 
Under Belgian law, a person can request to die on the grounds of incurable, unbearable suffering that can be physical or psychological.
 
A patient does not have to be terminally ill to request to die and there is no age restriction.

Watch Dateline's Allow Me To Die story in full:

Allow Me To Die
Imagine choosing to die when you don’t have a terminal illness. Is it a choice we should have? A powerful Dateline special gets rare access to film the journeys of two people in Belgium – going behind the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world.