The European Court of Human Rights agreed last week to hear from Tom Mortier, a Belgian man who says doctors misused the country’s euthanasia law when they killed his mother in 2012.
Godelieva De Troyer requested euthanasia in 2011 from her psychiatrist of 20 years after a breakup with a romantic partner. When the psychiatrist said her depression was treatable and refused to approve her request, she contacted other doctors. Another psychiatrist, Lieve Thienpont, approved her request, and Wim Distelmans, an oncologist and a leading proponent of euthanasia in Belgium, carried it out.
“[De Troyer] was under the care of a psychiatrist and according to medical definition was a vulnerable person,” said Robert Clarke, the director of European advocacy for ADF International, the global branch of Alliance Defending Freedom. “The state had a duty of care to protect her, and it failed.”
De Troyer donated $2,860 to Distelmans’ organization, Life End Information Forum, shortly before he euthanized her by lethal injection. Incidentally, Thienpont is under investigation in the hasty euthanasia of Tine Nys in 2010.
Mortier said doctors never contacted his mother’s children to inform them of her intentions. He only heard from the hospital after her death.
In its appeal to the high court on behalf of Mortier, ADF International pointed out that doctors could not determine whether De Troyer’s mental suffering was incurable because they never attempted to reunite her with her children, with whom she last spoke approximately a year before her death.
“The big problem in our society is that, apparently, we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other,” Mortier said. “My mother had a severe mental problem. She had to cope with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and eventually the contact between us was broken. A year later, she received a lethal injection. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection nor the hospital had informed me or any of my siblings that our mother was even considering euthanasia.”
Mortier filed medical and criminal complaints in 2014, but those complaints went nowhere, according to court documents. ADF International appealed to the European Court of Human Rights first in 2014, but the court declined to take the case the following year. After another appeal in November 2017, the court finally agreed last week to hear the case.
“International law has never established a so-called ‘right to die,’” Clarke said. “On the contrary, it solidly affirms the right to life—particularly for the most vulnerable among us.”
The case is similar to the one involving Nys, whose sister Sophie Nys filed complaints against the doctors who approved Tine Nys’ euthanasia. Like De Troyer, Nys was in good physical health but suffered from depression partly due to a breakup in a romantic relationship. In Nys’ case, doctors approved her euthanasia on the basis of a recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Officials opened Belgium’s first criminal investigation of a euthanasia death in Nys’ case.
“According to the most recent government report, more than six people per day are killed in this way, and that may yet be the tip of the iceberg,” said Paul Coleman, director of ADF International. “The figures expose the truth that, once these laws are passed, the impact of euthanasia cannot be controlled. Belgium has set itself on a trajectory that, at best, implicitly tells its most vulnerable that their lives are not worth living.”