BRUSSELS (AFP) - A serial rapist and murderer who had won the right to die under Belgium's controversial euthanasia laws will not now be put to death following fresh medical advice, authorities said Tuesday.
Frank Van Den Bleeken, who has spent 26 years in jail for repeated rapes and a rape-murder, will instead be moved from his prison in the northwestern city of Bruges to a new psychiatric treatment centre in Ghent, Justice Minister Koen Geens said.
The Flemish-language newspaper De Morgen reported Saturday that Van Den Bleeken would be voluntarily euthanised by lethal injection in Bruges prison on January 11.
The report sparked complaints from human rights activists that Belgium was flouting its own euthanasia laws by failing to provide proper treatment for such cases.
Geens said in a statement he "takes note of the decision of doctors treating Mr Frank Van Den Bleeken to no longer continue the euthanasia procedure". He gave no reason for the decision, citing medical privacy.
The rapist and murderer had for years requested that the state help him end his life due to what his lawyer Jos Vander Velpen called "unbearable" psychological suffering because he was unable to check his violent sexual impulses.
His wish was granted by doctors in September.
Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, the second country in the world to do so after The Netherlands, and logged a record 1,807 cases of euthanasia in 2013.
Its strict conditions for a mercy killing include that patients must be capable, conscious and have presented a "voluntary, considered and repeated" request to die.
Lawyer Vander Velpen said last year the sex offender met all legal conditions, and for the last few years had felt he "couldn't stand to live like this any longer and could no longer accept the pain".
"I am a human being, and regardless of what I've done, I remain a human being. So, yes, give me euthanasia," Van Den Bleeken said at the time in comments on VRT Flemish Belgian television.
Van Den Bleeken, considering himself a menace to society, had refused to be considered for early parole, but found the conditions of his detention inhumane. He had requested a transfer to a specialised psychiatric centre in The Netherlands for treatment or, failing that, a mercy killing.
Belgian authorities at the time denied the transfer request and senior officials said Van Den Bleeken also refused the option of being moved to the new facility that opened in Ghent in November.
But Geens, who took office with a new government in October, said the prisoner would now be transferred to the centre in Ghent where he would undergo observation about the long-term treatment he needs.
He added that Belgian authorities had also undertaken "very recent and intense contacts" with their Dutch counterparts that "offer a very clear prospect for a rapid transfer to a centre in the Netherlands specialised in long stays."
The minister said that since assuming office he has made contacts to develop over the next six months new possibilities for treatment of long-term prisoners suffering from "deep psychological problems."
He observed that there was a lack of such care in Belgium and that the country had been condemned for it by the European Court of Human Rights.
In February last year, Belgium became the first country to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of all ages, after a heated debate in which critics questioned a child's ability to make the decision to die.