BLOGLicensed to Kill: the Inevitable Fallout of the Culture of Death

By Alan Sears Posted on: | June 22, 2015

Godelieva De Troyer is dead now.  The man who killed her says she wanted it that way.

Godelieva was depressed. She’d recently broken up with her boyfriend, and apparently felt distanced from her family. All that’s enough to leave anyone feeling low, but Godelieva, in her agitated state, took it a step farther.

She decided she wanted to die. Belgian law (Godelieva was a citizen of Belgium) allows for euthanasia, but her doctor of 20 years refused her request … so she went shopping for an executioner. She found one in Dr. Wim Distelmans, a prominent oncologist.

Dr. Distelmans is co-founder of Life End Information Forum, an organization dedicated to the idea that doctors should be free to help people kill themselves for almost any reason, if they want to die. Dr. Distelmans is not a psychiatrist, so it may have been Godelieva’s 2,500 euro donation to his organization that prompted him to accede to her request. He enlisted the approval of two other doctors – neither of them fully familiar with Godelieva’s history, neither of whom went so far as to call a member of her family for a consultation – and at least one of whom seems to have given him the go ahead to help her end her life.

He did so, justifying his actions as a reasonable prescription for “untreatable depression.”

On a perhaps not-unrelated note: when the Belgian government legalized euthanasia, they opted to offset protests from opponents by establishing a commission to investigate any abuses of the euthanasia law. They named Dr. Distelmans to head that commission. Somehow – despite mounting evidence of widespread abuse of the law – the commission has never referred a case to the prosecutor.

What has all this to do with Alliance Defending Freedom? Our ADF International attorneys filed an application at the European Court of Human Rights (which is, for 47 countries, the final court of appeal on human rights questions) on behalf of Godelieva’s son, Tom Mortier. Mortier – who was only contacted by the hospital on the day after his mother’s death – is challenging the Belgian laws that facilitated his mother’s untimely and unnecessary demise.

Last week, the ECHR moved the spotlight back down to the Belgian criminal prosecutor, who previously failed to pursue the matter … after once losing the files on the case. The ECHR, however, invited Mortier to bring his case back to them if the criminal court does not satisfactorily resolve the matter.

“We are pleased that Tom will be able to pursue justice in the Belgian court,” says ADF International Legal Counsel Robert Clarke. “We trust the court will take his case seriously and that the case will be properly managed and progressed quickly so that justice will be done.”

This is just one in a flurry of life issues the ECHR is dealing with, from countries across Europe. Not long ago, the Court unanimously rejected the claim that Switzerland had an obligation to assist individuals in committing suicide. Then, last year, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR was presented with a lawsuit challenging the government of Switzerland, because that nation refused to authorize doctors to provide suicide drugs to a woman who was not suffering from any fatal disease.

The court threw out an earlier decision by a panel of the ECHR when it was learned that the woman had committed suicide three years earlier. Those pressing her lawsuit – apparently eager to gain legal ground for assisted suicide – had never bothered to inform the court of her death (or how she died).

As the world’s laws become increasingly complex and interconnected, it’s useful to remember:

  1. What happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe. Many American jurists and activists are taking their cue from European precedents … and propositions promoting doctor-assisted suicide will be on ballots in a number of states in the months and years to come.
  2. The doctors and lawyers who concealed the dead Swiss woman from the ECHR are showing a palpable contempt not only for the sanctity of life, but for due process of the law. That unswerving determination and lack of conscience are enabling them to build a culture of death.
  3. That culture of death is built not only on great sweeping decisions like Roe v. Wade, but on many other cases of the kind ADF and our allies are defending every day: the right of student groups to share a pro-life message on campus; the right of medical professionals not to betray their faith by participating in abortion; the right of individual tax-payers and Christian business owners not to have to contribute funds for abortion.

When life is no longer regarded as sacred – by governments, by doctors, by voters – any life is eventually forfeit. A child in the womb, an accident victim on life support … or just an emotionally distraught woman like Godelieva De Troyer.

Every life is expendable, unless every life is sacred. That is why all of us – not just our ADF attorneys, but people of faith across the country and around the world – must stand prayerfully, and vocally, for the sanctity of life.

Alan Sears


Alan Sears serves as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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