Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), has agreed to hear a legal case brought against Belgium filed by a man who claims his mother was wrongly euthanized as a result of her depression. Attorneys representing Tom Mortier released a statement saying that there were some “deeply worrying” details surrounding the case, adding that their client chose to take it on after Belgium police failed to follow up on his grave concerns. “This woman was under the care of a psychiatrist and according to medical definition was a vulnerable person,” lawyer Robert Clarke explained. “The state had a duty of care to protect her and it failed.”
The ECHR will now decide whether euthanizing Mortier’s mother, Godelieva De Troyer, was a violation of her basic human rights. De Troyer had battled depression for years, eventually choosing to put in a request for euthanasia, which her physician denied. So the mother sought help from Dr. Wim Distelmans, who co-chairs Belgium’s euthanasia review commission. Mortier argued that his mother’s case was not properly reviewed, and noted that she had donated 2,500 euros ($2,860) to an association that Distelmans led just prior to her death. De Troyer was killed by lethal injection at a Brussels hospital in 2012 after doctors ruled her depression was “untreatable.”
Inconceivably, Mortier was not informed about her life-ending injection until his mother was deceased, at which point the hospital contacted him to request he retrieve her body from the morgue. It is cases like these that have thrust Belgium’s liberal euthanasia laws into the spotlight over the past few years. Along with the Netherlands, Belgium has legislated for the killing of people with psychiatric conditions, as long as they can sufficiently prove themselves to be in the throes of “unbearable and untreatable” suffering. This latest case again brings a top pro-euthanasia physician under the microscope.
Dr. Lieve Thienpont, the psychiatrist who approved De Troyer’s lethal injection, is currently under investigation over the death of Tine Nys, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome by Thienpont just two months before she was euthanised. Nys’s family insists she was not on the autistic spectrum, but rather was depressed “over a recent breakup with her boyfriend.” Thienpoint has been widely accused of signing off too easily on the euthanasia of patients suffering from mental illness, with experts noting that she is likely responsible for about a third of all euthanasia-related deaths in the country.
The Nys family noted that their loved one’s diagnosis and the approval for her euthanasia was decided over the course of just three sessions with the leading psychiatrist. Over 10,000 people have been euthanized in Belgium since the practice was legalized in 2002, but many have raised moral objections to the killing of individuals with chronic illness. Staggeringly, out of the thousands of deaths, just one case has been handed to prosecutors, but this was later dropped. Now, and perhaps rather significantly, the Belgium euthanasia apparatus will be forced to answer to the highest court in Europe.
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