Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Court rules that the euthanasia of a depressed woman in Belgium violated Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Tom Mortier
Those who follow the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition will remember the story of Tom Mortier whose mother Godelieva de Troyer died by euthanasia based on "untreatable depression" in Belgium in 2012. 

In November 2017 Mortier applied to the European Court of Human Rights and in January 2019, they agreed to hear the case. Mortier was arguing that his mother's euthanasia death contravened Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Mortier was represented by Robert Clarke with Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF).

On October 4, 2022, ADF announced that the European Court of Human Rights "ruled in favour of Tom Mortier, son of Godelieva de Troyer, who died by lethal injection in 2012, aged 64. Her euthanasia was conducted on the basis of a diagnosis of “incurable depression”. In the case of Mortier v. Belgium, the Court found that Belgium violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it failed to properly examine the alarming circumstances leading to her euthanasia."

Godelieva de Troyer
This is great news as it is the first time that a major European court has decided that the Belgium euthanasia protocols contravene Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In their media release ADF stated:

The Court held that there was a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. This judgment was with regard to the way in which the facts surrounding de Troyer’s euthanasia were handled by Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia and the promptness of a criminal trial following de Troyer’s death. It did not, however, rule that there was any violation of Belgium’s legislative framework for the practice of euthanasia.

Per the Court, “taking into account the crucial role played by the Commission in the a posteriori control of euthanasia, the Court considers that the control system established in the present case did not ensure its independence”. It thus found that Belgium failed to fulfil its positive procedural obligation under Article 2 of the Convention both because of the lack of independence of the Commission and due to lack of promptness of the criminal investigation. The holdings that there was no violation of Belgium’s legislative framework and no violation of Article 2 for the conditions of the euthanasia were five votes to two.

The ADF media release explained the case.

The facts of the case highlight the myriad dangers that arise when euthanasia is legalized, and make clear that even legal ‘safeguards’ are not sufficient to protect the right to life when the practice of intentionally ending a life is available under the law. 

In this case, Tom’s mother was able to approach the country’s leading euthanasia advocate who, despite being a cancer specialist, ultimately agreed to euthanize her. Over a period of just a few months, she made a financial payment to his organization and was referred by him to see other doctors who were also part of the same association despite a requirement for independent opinions in the case of individuals not expected to die soon. The same doctor that euthanized her is also co-chair of the Federal Commission charged with approving euthanasia cases after the fact, including this one, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. Despite Belgium euthanizing an average of seven people per day, the Commission has only ever referred one case for further investigation.

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

The ADF media release continued:

Euthanasia in Belgium has been legal since 2002. The law specifies that the 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”.

Mr. Mortier’s mother was physically healthy, and her treating psychiatrist of more than 20 years doubted that she satisfied the requirements of the Belgian euthanasia law. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection nor the hospital informed him that she was even considering euthanasia. Mr. Mortier found out the day after she was euthanized when the hospital asked him to make the necessary arrangements.

Tom Mortier stated in the media release:

“My mother suffered from severe mental difficulties, and coped with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and sadly, she and I lost contact for some time. It was during this time that she died by way of lethal injection. Never could I have imagined that we would be parted forever.”

“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”.

Robert Clarke, the ADF lawyer who represented Mortier stated why this is a positive precedent setting decision:

“This ruling serves as 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”


Tershia said...

I read about this case from the start. It has been a long time in coming, but I am happy that Mr. Mortier has prevailed in court.
Hopefully this ruling will clip Belgium’s euthanasia wings.

Sara Buscher said...

This is an extremely important ruling. My heart goes out to Tom Mortier who pursued this for 10 years. May it give him some peace in knowing that others will not have to suffer as he did.