European court: Belgian doctors violated woman's right to life

STRASBOURG, France (CNS) -- Doctors in Belgium violated a woman's right to life when they improperly handled her request for euthanasia, the European Court of Human rights ruled.

In the case of Mortier vs. Belgium, the court ruled that a lethal injection given to Godelieva De Troyer in 2012 was in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which says the right to life is protected by law.

De Troyer, a mental health patient who was physically healthy, was killed by an oncologist at the age of 64 when the doctor decided that she was suffering from "incurable depression" and met the requirements for euthanasia under a 2002 law. The law stipulated a person must be suffering unbearably before qualifying for doctor-assisted death.

The court ruled Oct. 4 partly in favor of a case brought by Tom Mortier, the woman's son, because there was a lack of independent scrutiny of the circumstances of the death and delays in bringing a criminal case to trial following complaints to the authorities.

The judges concluded 5-2, however, that there were no violations of the framework for euthanasia in Belgium, under which an average of seven patients are killed every day by their doctors.

Mortier said after the ruling: "While nothing can alleviate the pain of losing my mother, my hope is that the ruling from the court that there was indeed a violation of the right to life puts the world on notice as to the immense harm euthanasia inflicts on -- not just people in vulnerable situations contemplating ending their lives -- but also their families and, ultimately, society."

Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International, the Christian human rights group that represented Mortier before the court, said the case demonstrated the inadequacy of legal safeguards to protect vulnerable people.

"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," he said in an Oct. 4 statement.

"Unfortunately, while the court indicated that more 'safeguarding' is an appropriate solution to protecting life, in its own ruling it makes clear that laws and protocols were indeed insufficient to protect the rights of Tom's mother," he continued.

"The 'safeguards' touted as offering protection to vulnerable people should trigger more caution toward euthanasia in Europe and the world," he added.

"The reality is that there are no 'safeguards' that can mitigate the dangers of the practice once it is legal."

According to an Oct. 4 news release issued by ADF, De Troyer had made a financial payment to an organization to which the doctor who killed her belonged.

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 cases of patients who were not expected to die imminently.

The same doctor is also co-chair of the Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, the group that has responsibility for approving euthanasia cases after the fact.