News from Europe

Belgium violated right to life in euthanasia case, according to the ECHR

In a major case on the right to life, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Tom Mortier, son of Godelieva de Troyer, who died by lethal injection in 2012, aged 64. Her euthanasia was conducted on the basis of a diagnosis of “incurable depression”. In the case of Mortier v. Belgium, the Court found that Belgium violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it failed to properly examine the alarming circumstances leading to her euthanasia.


The Court held that there was a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. This judgment was with regard to the way in which the facts surrounding de Troyer’s euthanasia were handled by Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia and the promptness of a criminal trial following de Troyer’s death. It did not, however, rule that there was any violation of Belgium’s legislative framework for the practice of euthanasia.

Per the Court, “taking into account the crucial role played by the Commission in the a posteriori control of euthanasia, the Court considers that the control system established in the present case did not ensure its independence”.

It thus found that Belgium failed to fulfil its positive procedural obligation under Article 2 of the Convention both because of the lack of independence of the Commission and due to lack of promptness of the criminal investigation. The holdings that there was no violation of Belgium’s legislative framework and no violation of Article 2 for the conditions of the euthanasia were five votes to two.

“We welcome the Court’s finding of an Article 2 violation, which demonstrates the inadequacy of ‘safeguards’ for the intentional ending of life. The decision counters the notion that there is a so-called ‘right to die,’ and lays bare the horrors that inevitably unfold across society when euthanasia is made legal. Unfortunately, while the Court indicated that more ‘safeguarding’ is an appropriate solution to protecting life, in its own ruling it makes clear that laws and protocols were indeed insufficient to protect the rights of Tom’s mother.


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