The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled that Belgium failed to conduct a proper investigation into the circumstances of the 2012 euthanasia of Godelieva de Troyer on the grounds of “untreatable depression.”
The court found there was a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.
The landmark euthanasia case was brought to the court in Strasbourg by Tom Mortier, de Troyer’s son. She died in 2012 after she had approached the country’s leading euthanasia advocate, who ultimately agreed to euthanize her despite being a cancer specialist.
Before her death by euthanasia at age 64, neither her son nor any family member was consulted.
The Court of Human Rights on Oct. 4 did not rule that there was any violation of Belgium’s legislative framework for the practice of euthanasia.
The judgment was with regard to the way in which the facts surrounding de Troyer’s euthanasia were handled by Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia and the promptness of a criminal trial following de Troyer’s death.
“Taking into account the crucial role played by the commission in the a posteriori control of euthanasia, the court considers that the control system established in the present case did not ensure its independence,” the ruling said.
The court found that Belgium failed to fulfill its obligation under Article 2 of the convention both because of the lack of independence of the commission and due to lack of promptness of the criminal investigation.
Over a period of just a few months, de Troyer had made a financial payment to a Belgian euthanasia advocate’s organization. He referred her 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.
The Court of Human Rights’ finding that there was no violation of Belgium’s legislative framework and no violation of Article 2 for the conditions of the euthanasia was decided in a 5-2 vote.
“We welcome the court’s finding of an Article 2 violation, which demonstrates the inadequacy of ‘safeguards’ for the intentional ending of life,” the Christan legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF International) said in a statement Oct 4. “The decision counters the notion that there is a so-called ‘right to die’ and lays bare the horrors that inevitably unfold across society when euthanasia is made legal.”
ADF International said that while the court ruled more “safeguarding” was an appropriate solution to protecting life, its own ruling made clear that laws and protocols were indeed insufficient to protect the rights of Mortier’s mother.
“It is unfortunate that the court dismissed the challenge to the Belgian legal framework; however, the takeaway is that the ‘safeguards’ touted as offering protection to vulnerable people should trigger more caution toward euthanasia in Europe and the world,” said Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International, who represented Mortier before the court.
“The reality is that there are no ‘safeguards’ that can mitigate the dangers of the practice once it is legal. Nothing can bring back Tom’s mother, but we hope this decision offers Tom some small measure of justice,” Clarke said.
Countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands have been at the forefront of offering euthanasia and assisted suicide, and doctors who personally object to the practice must still refer patients.
Vincent Kemme, the founder of the Belgian bioethics organization Biofides, told EWTN News in September that his organization has observed a shift in recent years, especially in the low countries of Europe, away from conscience protections for the medical profession.
“In Europe and the United States, the introduction of relativism and moral subjectivism has completely changed the profession of the doctor,” Kemme said.
Under Belgian law, euthanasia is permissible when a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering” resulting from a severe and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident cannot be alleviated.