– The case against a doctor who killed a woman for being depressed and then didn’t have anyone inform her son until the next day is headed back to a Belgian criminal court.
ADF International had filed an application, Mortier v. Belgium, with the European Court of Human Rights in September of last year on behalf of the son, Tom Mortier, to challenge Belgium’s laws that allow doctor-prescribed death, but the court wants the Belgian criminal court, which previously claimed it lost the files to the case, to address the issue first. The European Court invited Mortier to apply to it once again if the Belgian court does not satisfactorily resolve the matter.
“No one should support any doctor who thinks the right prescription for depression is death,” said ADF International Legal Counsel Robert Clarke. “We are pleased that Tom will be able to pursue justice in the Belgian court. 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.”
Oncologist Wim Distelmans killed Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgium citizen who was not terminally ill, because of “untreatable depression” in April 2012 after receiving consent from three other physicians who had no previous material involvement with her care. De Troyer’s doctor of more than 20 years had denied her request to be euthanized in September 2011, but after a 2,500 EUR donation to Life End Information Forum, an organization that Distelmans co-founded, he carried out her request to die because of the depression. The donation gives rise to an apparent conflict of interest.
No one contacted Mortier before his mother’s death even though, Mortier says, her depression was not only largely the result of a break-up with a man, but also due to her feelings of distance from her family.
Distelmans is not a psychiatrist, and none of the doctors involved had any enduring doctor-patient relationship with De Troyer. In addition, the commission the Belgian government established to investigate any failure to observe the euthanasia law has been led, since its creation, by Distelmans. Despite evidence of widespread abuse of the law, the commission has never referred a case to the prosecutor.
“People suffering from depression need compassion, love, and sound treatment, not a prescription for death,” said ADF International Senior Counsel Roger Kiska. “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.”
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights threw out a lawsuit that challenged Switzerland’s denial of suicide drugs to a woman who was not suffering from any fatal disease. The court dismissed the case, Gross v. Switzerland, when it discovered the woman had committed suicide three years earlier. In an apparent attempt to keep her lawsuit alive, no one had informed the court of her death or how she died. In 2011, in Haas v. Switzerland, the European Court unanimously rejected the claim that Switzerland had an obligation to assist individuals in committing suicide.