One columnist recently said it well: ‘Belgium has long been famous for food, like waffles and chocolate. But it’s becoming famous for death.’
In May 2002, Belgium legalized euthanasia. In 2014, it abolished any age limit for euthanasia. In 2016, the first child was euthanized. Belgium is one of seven nations worldwide in which euthanasia is legal. But perhaps nowhere else has the slippery slope of euthanasia legalization been more apparent.
Tom hadn’t given much thought to his country’s liberal euthanasia laws. He didn’t think they affected him. He’s a university professor in Belgium, where he has lectured since 2006.
For Tom, it seemed that if a person wanted to die, who are we to stop him? Why can’t that person simply make that choice?
Then Tom’s mother was euthanized.
His wife received a phone call from a hospital, letting her know that they needed to take care of Tom’s mother’s affairs since she had been euthanized.
Tom was shocked. His mother had suffered with chronic depression for a long time. Her depression had been particularly exacerbated after the break down of a relationship with a long-term partner in 2010.
‘My mother had a severe mental problem. She had to cope with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and the contact between us was broken,’ Tom has said.
Yet, Tom had no idea that she was going to be given a lethal injection. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection, nor the hospital, informed him that euthanasia had been offered to his mother.
‘And the day after, I was contacted by the hospital, asking me to take care of the practicalities following the euthanasia of my mother,’ Tom says. His anger and sadness are palpable.
When euthanasia was first legalized in Belgium 17 years ago, many people understood the ‘unbearable suffering’ required to receive it as a physical terminal illness. Promises were made that the practice would be well regulated.
As Tom’s story testifies, promises were broken.
Belgium set itself on a trajectory that implicitly tells its most vulnerable that their lives are not worth living. Since its legalization, cases of euthanasia in Belgium have increased dramatically. ‘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,’ says Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International. Studies suggest that a staggering number remain unreported.
Tom took his case to court. On 8 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to consider his case, after Belgian authorities refused to pursue it.
‘International law has never established a so-called “right to die.” On the contrary, it solidly affirms the right to life – particularly for the most vulnerable among us. A look at the sad facts of this case exposes the lie that euthanasia is good for society,’ said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who represents Tom Mortier before the Court.
When euthanasia is accepted, the most vulnerable members of our society—the old and the sick—lose. And so do we all. More than 17 years of legalized euthanasia in Belgium quickly exposes that.
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