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Court finds Belgium violated right to life in 2012 euthanasia case

J-P Mauro - published on 10/05/22

“The big problem in our society is that apparently, we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other.”

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the euthanasia of a 64-year-old woman with clinical depression violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life. The court stated that the violation occurred when Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia failed to properly examine the circumstances leading to the euthanasia, as well as the lack of a prompt criminal investigation after the fact. 

The case

The case revolved around Godelieva de Troyer, who sought a fatal injection due to her diagnosis with “incurable depression,” in 2012. Tom Mortier, de Troyer’s son – who was the plaintiff in the case – said his mother suffered from depression her whole life, although she was in excellent physical health. Mortier had been estranged from his mother for several years when the euthanasia took place. He said that he never expected to be “parted forever.”

Mortier stated after the death of his mother: 

“The big problem in our society is that apparently, we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other.”

According to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADFI), de Troyer approached Belgium’s leading euthanasia advocate who, despite being a cancer specialist, agreed to the euthanization. Over the following months de Troyer made payments to the doctor’s organization and was referred to other medical professionals associated with it. None of the doctors she saw, however, ever sought an opinion from her psychiatrist of over 20 years.

Furthermore, ADFI notes, the doctor who euthanized her was the same doctor who co-chairs the Federal Commission charged with approving euthanasia cases and their investigations after the fact. This constitutes a clear conflict of interest, as this doctor would also be responsible for de Troyer’s case

Safeguards

The case is highlighting the dangers that can come with the legalization of euthanasia, as when legal “safeguards” fall short of effectiveness. Belgium has been a focus of the debate by international media sources, as it has provided euthanasia since it was legalized in the nation in 2002. The law states that a person must be in a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.”

Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International – who represented Tom Mortier before the Court – said of Belgium’s “safeguards”: 

“This ruling serves as [sic] stark reminder. It is clear that the so-called ‘safeguards’ failed because intentional killing can never be safe. We must be unfailing in our commitment to advocating for the right to life and the truth that people have inherent dignity no matter their age or health condition.”

Clarke went on to hail the decision of the court, which he said counters the notion that there is a “so called ‘right to die.’” He did, however, lament that the court dismissed his challenge to the Belgium legal framework that allows for euthanasia. He said: 

“The reality is that there are no ‘safeguards’ that can mitigate the dangers of the practice once it is legal. Nothing can bring back Tom’s mother, but we hope this decision offers Tom some small measure of justice.”

As for Mortier, there’s little that the court can do to assuage his grief, but he is taking solace in its decision, which might help protect people who are in similarly vulnerable positions. Mortier said of the court’s decision: 

“This marks the close of this terrible chapter, and while nothing can alleviate the pain of losing my mother, my hope is that the ruling from the Court that there was indeed a violation of the right to life puts the world on notice as to the immense harm euthanasia inflicts on not just people in vulnerable situations contemplating ending their lives, but also their families, and ultimately society.”

Read more at ADFI. 

Tags:
EuropeEuthanasia
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