Getting the needle in a Belgian prison

A convicted serial rapist in a prison in Bruges will be put to death by lethal injection on January 11th

Contrary to what you might think while reading this, Belgium has not reinstated the death penalty. This man, called Frank van den Bleeken (52 years old), received a life sentence for his crimes and now, after serving over 30 years in prison has finally been granted the right to die

I don’t really know why out of all the news, this item stuck with me and compelled me to rush to my blog. It hardly caused a ripple in the news of the world but it’s still a historic decision and it leaves me in doubt about where I stand in this…

lethal-injectionWhen van den Bleeken requested the same thing in 2010 the judge did not grant his wish. What changed? Different psychologists concluded independently of each other that van den Bleeken suffers from great psychological anguish and that this is not likely to improve. Some might argue it is what he deserves and letting him die is an easy way out, a form of absolution if you will.

An interesting question posed by Servaas van der Laan in his opinion piece in Elsevier was the following: What right does a murderer and rapist have to choose between life and death when he showed the 19-year old woman that died by his hands no such mercy? At least he gets to say his goodbyes…

conscienceSo he says he is suffering. Not only is he suffering, it is unbearable. What does that mean? And does it matter what exactly is the cause of his depressed state? Is his life unbearable because being a sex offender made him the least popular guy on the block and has this constant fear for his life brought him to despair? Or is he tormented by the evil he carries inside him? Does he disapprove of his own demons and wishes to silence them once and for all by taking them to the grave?

If prison bullies giving him a hard time is what drove him to this extreme request, the solution is not death but a transfer to another jail or better security or what not. I suppose that has already been considered and tried out, so I’m guessing that’s not what’s going on.

prison-bars (1)From what I read, he does not wish to be considered for early parole, as he believes himself to be a menace to society but considered the conditions of his detention unbearable. So remind me, why do we put people in prison? As a punishment or to protect people in society from people with nasty tendencies? A bit of both probably, but I believe firstly it is a punishment or a payment to society for a crime committed. So not liking being locked up is kind of the point.

And that is precisely what the family of van den Bleeken’s victim says. They don’t want to grant him any easy way out and believe he should spend the remainder of his days locked up rather than be allowed to RIP six feet under. A sister is quoted: “Commissions, doctors and other experts have all investigated our sister’s killer but during all these years, not a single commission has examined OUR case. Not a single doctor or expert has asked us how we’re doing now.”

So what have they done to make life bearable for this man? Could it be he is just depressed from spending so much time indoors? Just a lack of Vitamine D, perhaps? Have they tried giving him an extra hour outdoors, some group sessions, a prescription of happy pills, a weekly talk with a therapist…

Ah but that is where things get interesting… Apparently, the prison this inmate resides in is the most specialized in psychiatric cases within Belgian borders. That is to say, there is one psychiatrist for every 400 prisoners. It turns out van den Bleeken even requested to be transferred to the Netherlands where there are more possibilities as far as involuntary commitment is concerned in so called TBS-clinics but was not granted this option.

tumblr_mz3zqyfE8V1sovq1bo1_1280So in the first place, he did want to feel better and believed he could reach a tolerable level of life with the right therapy and care. So what this really is, is a reflection of the poor mental health services available to Belgian inmates. Van den Bleeken grew up in a violent home, was molested himself and spends his days with the demons inside him tormenting him in his lonely cell. I do see why he would want to die.

So did this guy just not have the balls to kill himself in the 30 years he has been locked up and now want someone to kick the bucket for him? Or is the suicide watch just really efficient in Belgium? Is he afraid he won’t go to heaven if he commits suicide? Is there even a difference between euthanasia an assisted suicide?

And it also makes me think about the practical side of this…. Who do you call in to grant this man his wish? How many doctor’s in Belgium have experience with aiding a man in perfect physical health to die? Or do you fly in wardens from American jails who deal with this more regularly (albeit not very successfully lately)?

And how do we as a people feel about this? Apparently at least a dozen prisoners in similar circumstances have already made a request to be euthanized since the judge ruling in this case. Are we happy they are relieving us of the burden of their existence? Or should we feel bad that we are not trying harder to make their life bearable at the least…

I’m still a little undecided but do hope Mr van den Bleeken finds the afterlife to be either non-existent or pleasant enough to spend eternity in…


UPDATE: Frank van den Bleeken, who was due to be euthanised on January 11th in Belgium after pleading to end his “unbearable suffering” in prison will not be allowed to die. I guess Belgium wasn’t ready for this after all…


About Epi B

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. - Albert Einstein
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