by Robert Clarke, Deputy Director (Advocacy) for ADF International
After nearly a decade of litigation, the legal journey is over for a Belgian man named Tom Mortier, whose mother was euthanized in 2012.
While the European Court of Human Rights could have gone further to protect the right to life for all, it did rule on Oct. 4 that Belgium failed to properly examine the tragic euthanasia of Godelieva de Troyer, violating her right to life.
De Troyer died by lethal injection. A doctor ended her life after determining she had “incurable depression.” Although the psychiatrist who had treated de Troyer for over two decades doubted whether she satisfied the requirement for euthanasia, a leading euthanasia advocate who served as a cancer specialist agreed to euthanize her.
Mortier was notified about his mother’s euthanasia the day after it happened.
While the court did not strike down the Belgian euthanasia law, it did find that the Belgian system for ensuring compliance with the law “lacked independence” and therefore violated the right to life, protected under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Lacking independence is an understatement. The doctor who euthanized Tom’s mother is not just an outspoken euthanasia activist, but also sits as co-chair of the Federal Commission that apparently “unanimously approved” her death as complying with the law.
The ECHR—with jurisdiction in 46 countries—has never before ruled on a euthanasia law outright, and this is likely the first of other cases to come. ADF International has now been involved in major cases on the issue of life for over a decade at the court, and this ruling makes clear that all is not well in the second country in the world to have legalized euthanasia.
The ECHR rarely makes sweeping legal pronouncements on sensitive moral issues—part of its delicate transnational role. In this instance it neither held that euthanasia was prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights, nor did it hold that individuals have a “right to die.” The court’s decision-making in this ruling resembles the way it has approached other moral questions, as it previously came to broadly similar positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.
ADFI attorneys faithfully advocated for Mortier for eight years as he sought justice. It took a medical malpractice complaint, two domestic criminal investigations, and two applications to the ECHR, but the court finally ruled in his favor. ADF issued its first press release on Mortier’s case in 2014, eight years prior to the eventual ruling from the ECHR.
Armed with a finding that access to euthanasia is not a “right,” and that Belgium’s so-called “safeguards” fell fatally short, ADFI is ready to continue the fight for life at the national level throughout Europe and beyond, as well as future cases at the ECHR.