Belgium’s liberal euthanasia laws challenged before European Court
What’s at Stake:
- Promoting the right to life from conception to natural death
- Protecting the weak and vulnerable in society
Nothing could have prepared Tom Mortier for the devastating news he was to receive one day in April 2012.
The local hospital called him, asking him to retrieve his mother’s body from the morgue. They informed him that she had been killed by a doctor using a lethal injection, because she was suffering with ‘untreatable depression’.
These events happened in Belgium, where euthanasia is legal, but 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.’ Tom’s mother was physically healthy, and her treating psychiatrist of more than 20 years had said that she didn’t satisfy the requirements of the Belgian euthanasia law.
It is bad enough that a physically healthy woman was allowed to die at the hands of a doctor contrary to her regular doctor’s advice. But one other detail makes this case even more disturbing: the doctor who killed her sits on the government body responsible for checking that the requirements of the euthanasia law have been met in each case.
The number of euthanasia deaths has risen in Belgium every year since its legalization and not a single one of the 8,000 cases reported to the government body has been referred as suspicious. There has been a prosecutor’s investigation into the case, but as yet there have been no updates. ADF International has conducted legal research on the length of proceedings.
ADF International is representing Tom Mortier at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Belgium has failed to adequately protect his mother’s right to life. The Court has previously decided that the right to life requires states to take action to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. In January 2019, the Court accepted to hear the case.
ADF International has also used the Affirming Dignity campaign to raise awareness of this issue among media and other influencers. In May 2016, it presented Tom Mortier’s case to the European Parliament Working Group on Human Dignity, highlighting the concerning recent proposals to modify the law relating to euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands. On 20 July 2020, ADF International submitted what could be the final legal arguments on behalf of Tom Mortier in his case against Belgium at the European Court of Human Rights.
‘The facts of this case, and the requirements of the law in Belgium, are so far apart that it demonstrates that if you legalize euthanasia, you cannot control it,’ said Robert Clarke, ADF International legal counsel. ‘The recent extension of euthanasia to children with no lower age limit shows why it is essential the European Court of Human Rights requires Belgium to protect the right to life of its citizens.’
Our Role in the Case
ADF International is representing Tom Mortier before the European Court of Human Rights.