Belgium's Liberal Assisted Suicide Laws Questioned

/ International

In 2012, Tim Mortier’s life changed forever. His mother, Godelieva De Troyer, then 64, was killed by a lethal injection upon her own request after an unyielding battle with depression. Initially, her request was denied by her physician, and subsequently by her psychiatrist of more than 20 years.

De Troyer’s psychiatrist claimed that she did not meet the Belgium euthanasia law requirements, which state a patient must be experiencing a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.”

However, De Troyer continued to seek acceptance in the practice of Dr. Wim Distelmans, who coincidentally co chairs Belgium’s euthenasia review commission.

It is interesting to note her request was approved after De Troyer donated 2,500 euros to the association led by Distelman. Her depression was then labeled as untreatable, and she was killed by way of lethal injection in April of 2012.

Shockingly, Mortier was not notified of his mother’s death until after the injection, when the hospital morgue requested he collect his mother’s body. After unsuccessfully bringing his claim of wrongful death before multiple Belgium courts, Mortier is appealing to European courts on the basis of their “right to life” legislation.  

“This was a woman who was under the care of a psychiatrist, and according to medical definition was a vulnerable person,” Mortier’s attorney Robert Clarke told the The Washington Post.

In 2010, Springer’s Cognitive Therapy and Research published a scientific journal on how depression affects decision making. Their findings claim “the choices made by depressed persons may be sub-optimal. Studies have shown that depressed, relative to non-depressed persons, make qualitatively different decisions... leading many doctors and psychotherapists to suggest to their patients that they should avoid making major life choices while in a depressed state.”

Major life decisions certainly include life-ending ones. As Robert Clarke remarked, “The state had a duty of care to protect her, and it failed.”

This is not Belgium's first highly controversial assisted suicide case. In 2002, Belgium legalized lethal euthanasia for those suffering mental or physical pain deemed unbearable, that year, 24 people were legally euthanized.  Since then, the death toll  has risen to 2,022 individuals euthanized in the year 2015. If depression affects one’s ability to make optimal decisions, death should not be looked at as a treatment or a cure. Physicians are entrusted with the mental health and well being of their patients. “Death with Dignity” is unjust, partially due to the fact that this method targets the mentally weak (those struggling with mental illness or depression) or physically frail (be it from sickness or age). In a sense, the right to die culture devalues the life of certain people groups.

This is what discrimination looks like, and in a world so focused on social reform and equality, it is a huge oversight in legislation. Death cannot be viewed as healthcare. Depression is constantly changing and can improve with treatment; death, however, remains final.

Belgium's Liberal Assisted Suicide Laws Questioned
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