Belgium's euthanasia law survived a key test yesterday when a high court acquitted three doctors of charges of manslaughter by poisoning in a landmark ruling involving a woman who suffered from mental problems.
There were fears in the medical community a conviction would have had a chilling effect on doctors who need to co-operate on more than 2,000 euthanasia cases each year.
"This is relief for all doctors who have to carry out such tough tasks," said defence lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge.
"If this would have gone the other way, so many doctors would have been in real deep trouble," he said, implying few would want to risk assisting in euthanasia if it meant they could face manslaughter charges.
The three doctors were involved in the euthanasia of a 38-year-old patient, Tine Nys, who suffered with mental problems and died in 2010.
Her family took the case to court, arguing the euthanasia should never have happened, claiming her mental state wasn't hopeless and treatment was still possible. Ms Nys had psychiatric problems for years and had attempted suicide several times.
"This is such a relief. This has been with us for 10 years," psychiatrist Lieve Thienpont, one of the acquitted doctors, said.
The 12 jurors took eight hours to weigh the question of guilt and when they came to their verdict, more than 100 attendees in the court broke out in wild applause.
Lawyer Fernand Keuleneers, who is on the Nys family's legal team, complained the ruling turned euthanasia into a free-for-all.
"The euthanasia law is now beyond any controls," he said. "Everyone can do what he or she wants. The political world is facing a massive problem."