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The European Court of Human Rights, which previously ruled a state has no obligation to help people kill themselves, says Belgian courts should examine the circumstances of a doctor who euthanized a woman and didn’t inform the son of her demise until the next day.

ADF International had sought help from the international tribunal on behalf of Tom Mortier in a challenge to Belgian laws allowing doctor-prescribed death. The Belgian courts previously claimed they lost the file on the case.

But the international court said the case needs to be look at within Belgium’s system. Once that happens, the international court said it would be willing to consider the case again.

“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.”

The complaint alleges oncologist Wim Distelmans killed Godelieva De Troyer, who had “untreatable depression” but was not terminally ill.

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The death occurred in April 2012 after De Troyer’s doctor of more than 20 years had denied her request for euthanasia.

Then De Troyer contacted Distelmans and made a donation of 2,500 euros to Life End Information Forum, which was set up by Distelmans.

“No one contacted Mortier before his mother’s death even though, Mortier says, her depression was not only largely the result of a breakup with a man, but also due to her feelings of distance from her family,” ADF International said.

Other complications included the fact that the commission set up by the Belgian government to investigate such cases was led by Distelmans.

“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.”

In 2014, the human rights court threw out a challenge to Switzerland’s denial of suicide drugs to a woman who was not suffering from any fatal disease. The woman had died, but the family kept the information from the court, apparently in an effort to obtain a court decision. Earlier, the human-rights court rejected the claim Switzerland needed to help people kill themselves.

The De Troyer complaint explains Distelmans has no psychiatric qualifications, and none of the doctors involved in the case had any enduring doctor-patient relationship with De Troyer.

The case argues Belgium, which allows children to be euthanized as well, has gone too far.

It say “the balance has shifted unacceptably in favor of personal autonomy at the expense of the important public interest and a state’s obligation [to protect life].”

 

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