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Verdict is Reached in Belgian “Mercy-Killing” Thalidomide Case

Nov. 10, 1962 - A Belgian jury acquitted a young mother and four other persons today in the “mercy-killing” of the woman’s week-old thalidomide-deformed baby girl. A roar of approval greeted the verdict in the heavily guarded Court of Assizes in Liége when the 12 men voted not guilty after deliberating less than two hours. The week-long trial had stirred the nation and brought excited comment and sympathy for the defendants throughout Belgium and the rest of Europe. During the trial, defendants and spectators wept openly. The mother was Mrs. Suzanne Van De Put (right), 25, who admitted that she had killed her daughter Corinne by feeding her barbiturates in a mixture of milk and honey shortly after the baby was born May 22. Corinne was born without arms, and she was deformed in other ways as well. The other persons acquitted were Mrs. Van De Put’s husband, Jean, 35; her mother, Mrs. Fernande Coipel, 50; her sister, Monique, 26; and the family physician, Dr. Jacques Casters (left), 33, who prescribed the fatal drugs because, he said, of the compassion he felt for the parents. Thalidomide is a tranquilizer drug that has been blamed for thousands of birth deformities. The defense was based on the assertion that the accused felt pity for a “hopelessly condemned wretched human thing who faced a prospective existence without a glimmer of human happiness.” The mother had said: “It was the only thing to do.” Theoretically, if found guilty, all five could have been executed by the guillotine. In practice, Belgium almost always commutes such sentences to life imprisonment.

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