By Morgan Comite
October 28, 2022
On October 4th, 2022 in Belgium, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s euthanasia procedure, allowing 64-year-old Godelieva de Troyer, a woman suffering from chronic depression, her right to die. The case Mortier v. Belgium began in 2012, where surrounded by loved ones, de Troyer died by euthanasia. Following Belgium’s 2002 law,euthanasia allows “patients suffering from untreatable and unbearable either physical or psychological suffering to choose to end their lives.” After his mother’s death, de Troyer’s son filed a complaint arguing that the lawful process to carry out euthanasia was violated. He demonstrated the inadequacy of the Belgium safeguards that were put in place for the intentional ending of a life. However, the Court instead found that his mother’s death and Belgium’s euthanasia law complied with the Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The only violation was Belgium did not properly review his mother’s case, which was mandatory for euthanasia. Nevertheless, the judge protected de Troyer’s right to privacy, resulting in her decision to die.
Euthanasia is “the administration of a lethal agent by another person to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patient’s intolerable and incurable suffering.” In Belgium, euthanasia is accepted not just for terminally ill patients who are expected to die within a couple months, but chronically depressed individuals, like de Troyer. The 2002 Belgium Euthanasia law permits adults with “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated” to end their life. The law states that the patient must be “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.” In 2014, an amendment to the law lifted the age restriction, allowing children and adults to seek euthanasia. Overall, the law does provide some safeguards to protect due process and legal compliance, such as reporting cases, following criteria, and anonymity. But even with hoops for patients to jump through, there has been controversy over the rise of euthanasia cases in Belgium, making it an example of a “slippery slope.” The criteria to exercise the right to die has been overstretched and problematic, especially allowing children who brains are undeveloped the decision to die.
Conversely, in the United States, there are no federal euthanasia laws rendering it illegal in all 50 states; however, physician assisted suicide is legal in 10 jurisdictions, such that the patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months. In Washington v. Glucksberg, the Court examined whether a state has a “compelling interest” in preserving lives and protecting mentally ill citizens from physician neglect. The Court realized that if they had recognized the right to die, it would become hard to draw a line separating the permissible the right to die by a person or the person’s family. Therefore, the Court held that the right to assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, but rather left to the states to mandate.
The large debate over the legality and morality of euthanasia occurs in both the United States and Belgium; however, the United States has yet to legalize this practice. In People v Kevorkian, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that “[i]t is quite another thing, however, to conclude that the right to privacy encompasses euthanasia.” The argument to legalize euthanasia was “basically formless” for the court. Yet, Belgium legalized euthanasia granting the intentional ending of life. More and more individuals every year are choosing to die in Belgium, even some who suffer with suicidal thought as part of their underlying illness.
Godelieva de Troyer suffered from chronic depression, but how could a physician know exactly what she was feeling when she intended to end her life? The European Court’s continuance of Belgium’s euthanasia law is an important ethical and legal problem for the world. The criteria to enact euthanasia is only a steppingstone for what really should happen. While the original law was reserved for adults with severe illnesses and suffering, today being too tired to live is potentially sufficient enough to warrant the end. Like the United States, there needs to be more psychological research, more restrictions for both patients and physicians, and definitely an age requirement to end a person’s life. Better safeguards can render euthanasia safe by reversing the 2014 amendment that can give at least children without full term brain development a chance to really consider their choices. The European Court should have recognized the need for improvement and the heartbreaking reality of the deaths caused by the leniency of Belgium. We all have a right to live our life by our choices, but the option to end our lives when we feel like a burden to others should not be that easy; human life is too valuable, we need more safeguards and controls put into place.