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Defending life
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ECHR to hear case against Belgium by man whose depressed mother was euthanised

9 January 2019

Lawyers say there were "deeply worrying" details about the lethal injection of Godelieva De Troyer, who was 64 and in good physical health when she died.

The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium

Europe’s top human rights court has agreed to hear a case being brought against Belgium by a man whose mother was euthanized in 2012 for depression.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg agreed to hear the case lodged by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Tom Mortier, after Belgian courts refused to allow him to seek justice for the death of his mother. 

Robert Clarke, one of Mr Mortier’s lawyers, said there were some "deeply worrying" details about the case.  "This was a woman who was under the care of a psychiatrist and according to medical definition was a vulnerable person," Mr Clarke said. "The state had a duty of care to protect her and it failed."

Killed without family's knowledge

In April 2012, Godelieva De Troyer, who was 64 and in good physical health, but had a history of severe mental health problems, was killed by lethal injection by Wim Distelmans, Belgium’s leading euthanasia proponent and provider. Her son Tom Mortier was only informed when "hospital officials asked him to come to the morgue to fill out the paperwork necessary for turning over his mother’s remains to the department of experimental anatomy, per her request."

Institutional corruption

Mr Mortier has tried to initiate criminal proceedings in Belgium, but local prosecutors dismissed his complaint against Distelmans, citing a "lack of evidence." Prof Distelmans, has also authorised a number of other controversial euthanasia cases, such as that of 45 year old deaf twins, and a 44 year old whose sex change operation had failed. In a breath-taking conflict of interests, Distelmans is also co-Chairman of the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee that monitors euthanasia cases since its inception.

Mr Mortier argued in his court statement that there was a troubling lack of oversight in the case, pointing out that his mother donated 2,500 euros to an association that Distelmans headed shortly before her euthanasia. 

Psychiatrist involved in other shocking case 

The case also implicates the psychiatrist who authorised Mrs de Troyer's euthanasia request. Dr. Lieve Thienpont is one of three doctors currently facing trial accused of certifying a woman as autistic so that she could die by euthanasia. The family of Tine Nys, who died by lethal injection at the age of 38 in 2010, say that she was in fact suffering after a relationship breakdown, and was never treated for autism. Dr Thienpont was accused by nine fellow psychiatrists of being responsible for "probably close to 50%" of euthanasia cases for psychiatric disorders in Belgium. 

"Tip of the iceburg"

The court will consider whether Belgium has violated articles 2 and 8 of the Convention of Human Rights, the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life. Given the nature of the case, it seems the Strasbourg Court's role as a moral voice for human rights will be hard to sustain if it does not take action.

"The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium, and we see the tragic consequences in this 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. 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," said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a doctor has warned that new guidance from the BMA means "one Facebook post might be enough to bring about your death."

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Comments (1)

  • Georgina Clark

    10 January 2019, 4:08pm

    My daughters knew my views so when my second daughter was found to be pregnant by her 15th birthday I took her to a Life office in Croydon where it was confirmed. They asked if she needed any support but she said her parents would look after her. We waited until she was nearly 3 months before seeing a doctor. He then confirmed she was pregnant. I asked what we needed to do next and he replied ‘oh, of course you need an abortion’. My daughter grabbed her tummy as if to say you are not killing my baby. I was horrified myself because I thought he was a Catholic doctor. Things followed naturally after that and I asked the father who was 20 and working to pay for my daughter to go to a Catholic hospital in Wimbledon. I got a special price and he paid. I knew if she went to an ordinary hospital other mothers would have told her how silly she was. A baby girl was born by forceps, in Feb 1985. We worked together and she became a good mother but sadly broke up with the father two years later. After that life was very different for all of us. Another story!

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