Since 2002, Belgium law has allowed citizens access to medically induced suicide in cases where medical experts agree their physical or mental suffering is both unbearable and irreversible. Monday, a 50-year-old prisoner serving a life sentence for sexual assault and murder has been granted permission for euthanasia, The Associated Press reported. Frank Van Den Bleeken, who has been imprisoned for 30 years, has cited "unbearable psychological anguish" and argued he will never be able to overcome his violent impulses.

Authorities have not given a date for this first application of the country’s euthanasia laws to a serving prisoner. The last execution in Belgium, where capital punishment has been outlawed since 1996, took place in 1950. Critics of the Van Den Bleeken decision say this paves the way for at least 15 similar requests from other inmates. Jos Vander Velpen, the prisoner’s lawyer, told the Independent Van Den Bleeken will be conveyed to a hospital two days before his death “so he can say his farewells to his family in humanly dignified conditions.”

Van Den Bleeken first asked to end his life three years ago. Belgium's Federal Euthanasia Commission did not immediately consent and instead requested he seek psychological help. After he failed to find treatment, the board granted his request. According to the BBC, the European Court of Human Rights has criticized Belgium several times for its failure to properly treat mentally ill prisoners.

Radical Rise in Rates of Euthanasia

According to AP, most Belgians back the euthanasia laws. However, a decision earlier this year to extend the law to children has elevated pulses. Under the legal extension, children, with no age limits, may also choose to end their lives with the help of a doctor, though their parents must agree with the decision and they must be judged capable of understanding their decision. Critics argue children and/or their parents could be pressured into choosing euthanasia. Belgium’s health care system is run by the state with citizens paying at the point of care and then receiving reimbursement of between 50 percent and 75 percent of the costs.

In May, the Daily Mail reported a 27 percent surge in the number of euthanasia cases during 2013, with doctors killing an average of five people every day. During 2013, Sudpresse, Belgium’s leading French-speaking newspaper, reports a total of 1,816 cases of euthanasia compared to 1,432 cases reported in 2012. During 2011, there were 1,133 total cases.

Currently, about 54 percent of the total cases are people between the ages of 70 and 90. Those over 90 comprise seven percent and those between 60 and 70 comprise 21 percent. About 15 percent of all the euthanasia deaths occurring in Belgium are people younger than 60. Recent cases that have caused concern include a 44-year-old transexual who believed her surgery had been botched and 45-year-old deaf twins who learned they were likely to become blind.