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Human rights court sides with Belgium in euthanasia case

The Belgian state didn’t violate the rights of a person suffering from depression when it accepted her decision to go ahead with a euthanasia procedure, the European Court of Human Rights found Tuesday.

Judges ruled in favor of Belgium in three out of four counts — only finding fault over how the government conducted a review after the euthanasia was performed.

The case concerns Godelieva de Troyer, who was 64 years old when the procedure was carried out in 2012. She had been suffering from chronic depression for around 40 years when she approached oncologist Wim Distelmans to ask him to go through with euthanasia. Distelmans is a well-known activist who campaigns for the right to end one’s life in Belgium.

“At the end of the interview, the doctor concluded that she was severely traumatized, that she had a serious personality and mood disorder and that she no longer believed in recovery or treatment. He agreed to become her doctor under the Euthanasia Act,” reads a summary of the court’s findings.

The complaint was taken to the court by de Troyer’s son, Tom Mortier, who said he wasn’t properly informed of the decision to go ahead with the procedure. The Strasbourg court noted Mortier received an email from his mother in which she stated her wishes, and to which he did not reply. However, de Troyer did not want to call her children for fear of delaying the procedure. Mortier was then informed by the hospital the day after the euthanasia was carried out.

The court found that neither Belgium’s legislative framework for euthanasia, nor its application in this particular case, was in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life. Judges also found that the state had respected de Troyer’s right to privacy and family life, which is protected under Article 8 of the convention. Doctors had made reasonable efforts to ensure she reached out to her children, while still protecting her right to privacy.

The judges did find fault with the state in one instance, finding that the Belgian government didn’t properly review the case in either the mandatory review conducted by its commission for euthanasia, or in a criminal investigation that followed.

ADF International, the conservative group that represented Mortier, welcomed the court’s finding against the Belgian government. “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, the deputy director of ADF International.

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