BRUSSELS — Belgium’s doctor-assisted suicide laws allowed an unqualified doctor to kill a depressed mother who did not have a terminal illness without notifying her family, the woman’s son has charged in legal filing against them.
“People suffering from depression need compassion and love, not a prescription for death,” Roger Kiska, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Sept. 3. “The state has a duty to put the necessary safeguards in place so that suffering patients receive adequate care from doctors and an opportunity to consult with family members.”
Alliance Defending Freedom has filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Tom Mortier, son of Gedelieva De Troyer.
De Troyer had asked her doctor of more than 20 years to grant her request to be euthanized in September 2011, but he refused, Alliance Defending Freedom says.
Her request to be killed was later approved by three doctors who had no previous involvement with her care.
An oncologist, Wim Distelmans, killed her in April 2012 for “untreatable depression.” He has headed the government-established commission to investigate any failure to comply with the country’s euthanasia law since the commission was created.
Alliance Defending Freedom alleged that Distelmans has no psychiatric qualifications and that the other doctors involved in her death had no prior relationship with her.
He is also co-founder of the Life End Information Forum, to which De Troyer gave a 2,500-euro ($3,200) donation before her death. Alliance Defending Freedom said the donation creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Mortier said that no one contacted him before his mother’s death, and that her depression was due to the breakup of a relationship with a man, as well as to her feelings of distance from her family.
The legal application says that the Council of Europe’s institutions have shown “consistent opposition” to legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia and that the only positive duty of a state is “to protect life.”
The application argues that Belgium’s law concerning suicide has shifted the balance “unacceptably in favor of personal autonomy at the expense of the important public interest” and against a state’s obligation to protect the right to life.
“The government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death,” said Robert Clarke, litigation staff counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.
“A person can claim that she should be able to do whatever she pleases, but that does not override the government’s responsibility to protect the weak and vulnerable,” he said, adding that this principle is “completely consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Earlier this year, Belgium expanded its assisted-suicide law to allow terminally ill children to request euthanasia if they are “in great pain” and there is no available treatment.