Hugo Claus (April 5, 1929 – March 19, 2008) was a leading Belgian author, writing primarily in Dutch. Prominent as a novelist, poet, playwright, painter and film director, he was a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize while he was alive.
His death by euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium, led to considerable controversy. Claus suffered from Alzheimer's disease and requested his life to be terminated through euthanasia at the Middelheim Ziekenhuis in Antwerp on March 19, 2008.
The Flemish Minister of Culture stated, "I knew him well enough to know that he wanted to depart with pride and dignity". Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said that he imagined the onset of Alzheimer's must have been "inevitable and unbearable torture". "I can live with the fact that he decided thus", he said, "because he left us as a great glowing star, right on time, just before he would have collapsed into a black hole".
His death by euthanasia has received criticism from the Roman Catholic Church and the Belgian Alzheimer League. The Roman Catholic Church criticized the media coverage; cardinal Godfried Danneels referred to Claus' euthanasia in his Easter Homily. The Belgian Alzheimer League respects Claus' decision, but believes the media coverage of his death neglects other options for Alzheimer patients.
Hugo Claus was considered to be one of the most important contemporary Flemish authors. Under the pseudonym Dorothea van Male, he published the novel Schola Nostra (1971). He also used the pseudonyms Jan Hyoens and Thea Streiner. In 1983, he published Het verdriet van België ("The Sorrow of Belgium"), which is probably his most famous book.
Claus was also a dramatist. He wrote 35 original pieces and 31 translations from English, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Dutch plays and novels.
As a painter, Claus was a participant in the CoBrA art movement from 1950. He had developed friendships with some of its members, and illustrated a book by Pierre Alechinsky in 1949. He collaborated with key figures in the movement including Karel Appel and Corneille and participated in some exhibitions. He later used his experiences of this time in his book Een zachte vernieling (Mild destruction).
Hugo Claus' name had been put forward many times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, on which he would casually comment that "l'argent de ce prix m'aurait bien arrangé" ("this prize money would suit me fine").