Belgium: Jurors Challenged Because of Their Catholic Faith

January 25, 2020

A Belgian lawyer admitted using social media to filter the profiles of potential jurors in order to challenge any “practicing Catholics” in a euthanasia trial. The lawyer was defending a doctor accused of having euthanized a patient suffering from autism.

The trial in Ghent, Belgium, in January 2020, in itself sums up the whole drama of legal euthanasia in the low country. Tine Nys had a form of autism; in 2010, following an “emotional breakdown,” the young woman decided to die, and several doctors—against the advice of relatives, who have taken legal action—estimated that she fulfilled the conditions required for her qualify for an assisted suicide procedure.                                                     

In this first trial in Belgium concerning euthanasia, there is also the question of the doctors’ competence. During the killing procedure, one of the practitioners sought help from the father of the victim by asking him to hold the needle in his daughter’s arm because he had “forgotten to bring bandages.” The parents were also asked to certify the death of their child with the help of a stethoscope.

The case may seem difficult for his clients, the defense lawyer, Walter Van Steenbrugge, has chosen to take drastic steps to challenge jurors likely to be unfavorable to him. He explained that he had set up a filtering method: “given the little information that the defense receives on potential jurors, it is necessary to use social networks in order to asses the profiles of the candidates.” An astonishing process on the part of a lawyer, but there is more.

“I am comfortable with my decision to challenge people who have a very marked Catholic profile, for example, those who have a great Marian devotion,” revealed the lawyer in defending himself: “I do not want a juror who considers euthanasia as a murder.”

This practice—not very ethical—seems to be commonplace in Belgium. Another lawyer, a stranger to the Ghent trial, told the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that he worked with social media professionals. “They collect as much information as possible about the list of potential jurors we receive in a case; then the jurors are given a specific color code, if they are suitable for the defense.”

In Belgium, where euthanasia is legal, about six people a day die from this heinous practice.