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Europe’s top human rights court to rule on landmark euthanasia case

  • Tom Mortier challenges Belgium’s euthanasia laws on behalf of mother, who was euthanised for “incurable depression”
  • Case calls into question the validity of legal “safeguards” in cases of “assisted suicide”

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STRASBOURG (2 October 2022) – On TUESDAY 4 OCTOBER 2022, the European Court of Human Rights is set to rule on landmark euthanasia case Tom Mortier v. Belgium. Tom Mortier, son of Godelieva de Troyer, brought the case after his mother was put to death by lethal injection in 2012, aged 64. Mortier claims that Belgium violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it failed to properly protect the right to life of his mother -especially in light of the circumstances surrounding her death.

“My mother suffered from severe mental difficulties, and coped with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and sadly, she and I lost contact for some time. It was during this time that she died by way of lethal injection. Never could I have imagined that we would be parted forever,” said Tom Mortier.

“The big problem in our society is that apparently we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other,” Mortier continued.

The insufficiency of “safeguards”

The case highlights the dangers of legalising euthanasia, and demonstrates that so-called ‘safeguards’ cannot make safe the practice of intentionally ending a life.

“We welcome the decision of the Court to hear this important case on the right to life – particularly as it relates to the most vulnerable in society. 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 individuals, families, or society,” said Robert Clarke, ADF International Deputy Director, who represents Tom Mortier before the Court.

Tom Mortier’s mother, who suffered from depression, had approached the country’s leading euthanasia advocate who, despite being a cancer specialist, ultimately agreed to euthanize her.

Over a period of just a few months, de Troyer made a financial payment to the euthanasia advocate’s organization. She was referred by him to see other doctors who were also part of the same association, despite a requirement for independent opinions in the case of individuals not expected to die soon. The same doctor that euthanized her is also co-chair of the Federal Commission charged with approving euthanasia cases after the fact.

Prior to her death by euthanasia, neither her son Tom Mortier nor any family member was consulted. According to the oncologist who administered the lethal injection to his mother, her diagnosis was ‘untreatable depression’.

Despite Belgium now euthanizing an average of seven people per day, the Commission has only ever referred one case for further investigation.

Belgium’s “Slippery Slope”

Euthanasia in Belgium has been legal since 2002. 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”.

Over 27,000 people have died from euthanasia in Belgium since it was legalised 20 years ago on 28th May 2002, according to the latest official data from Belgian authorities.

Mortier’s mother was physically healthy, and her treating psychiatrist of more than 20 years doubted that she satisfied the requirements of the Belgian euthanasia law. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection nor the hospital informed him that she was even considering euthanasia. Mr. Mortier found out the day after she was euthanized when the hospital asked him to make the necessary arrangements.

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