Human Rights

European court rules Belgium violated human rights in euthanasia case

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Belgium violated a woman’s human rights by allowing her to undergo euthanasia, despite her long history of mental illness.

Tom Mortier has been seeking justice for his mother, Godelieva De Troyer, for years. In 2012, she was euthanized at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels) in Belgium, even though she was physically healthy. Her only diagnosed condition was chronic depression. Her family was not notified until after she had already died.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) began representing Mortier’s case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2019.

“The big problem in our society is that apparently we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other,” Mortier said in a 2019 ADF press release. “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.”

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The psychiatrist who approved De Troyer’s euthanasia is Dr. Lieve Thienpont, the same doctor who came under investigation for euthanizing Tine Nys, solely due to her purported autism diagnosis. Thienpont, it was later revealed, had lied about the patient being autistic. During the trial over Nys’ euthanasia, Thienpont excused it by saying Nys’ life had been a “failure.”

All three doctors involved in her euthanasia, including Thienpont, were acquitted.

However, Mortier was determined to bring his mother the justice that was denied to Nys. And today, the European Court of Human Rights sided with him. The court ruled that Belgium violated the European Convention on Human Rights by refusing to properly investigate De Troyer’s death.

In a press release, Robert Clarke, who represented Mortier for ADF, said:

“We welcome the Court’s finding of an Article 2 violation, which demonstrates the inadequacy of ‘safeguards’ for the intentional ending of life. The decision counters the notion that there is a so-called ‘right to die,’ and lays bare the horrors that inevitably unfold across society when euthanasia is made legal. Unfortunately, while the Court indicated that more ‘safeguarding’ is an appropriate solution to protecting life, in its own ruling it makes clear that laws and protocols were indeed insufficient to protect the rights of Tom’s mother.

It is unfortunate that the Court dismissed the challenge to the Belgian legal framework; however, the takeaway is that the ‘safeguards’ touted as offering protection to vulnerable people should trigger more caution toward euthanasia in Europe, and the world. 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.”

Clarke added that the case proves that so-called safeguards against euthanasia are bound to fail, for one simple reason. “[I]ntentional killing can never be safe,” he said. “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.”

For his part, Mortier celebrated the ruling, while still grieving the loss of his mother.

“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.”

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