In 2012, Wim Distelmans—the most prominent advocate for, and practitioner of, euthanasia in Belgium—killed a physically healthy sixty-four-year-old woman to “cure” her of chronic depression. Her son, Tom Mortier, was not informed of the procedure until after the fact, and has subsequently devoted himself to fighting his country’s lax “right-to-die” law, which has permitted the euthanizing of patients with psychiatric or other nonterminal illnesses. It now seems that Mortier has found a legal basis to challenge these laws in the European Court of Human Rights. Sohrab Ahmari writes:
Mortier and his lawyers contend that Belgian authorities failed to protect [his mother’s] right to life and that the failure was abetted by the country’s euthanasia law. The 2002 law, they argue, provides neither safeguards for the vulnerable nor sufficient accountability for providers. They have a formidable case.
Before [the law] was enacted, proponents assured the public that euthanasia would be rare. Yet the number of euthanized patients has risen steadily since legalization. In 2013, the number of cases rose to 1,807, up from 235 in 2003. By 2015, the total had reached 2,021. That’s according to data from the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee, the body that is charged with overseeing the practice. . . . The real figure may be much higher [as it seems that] many doctors are killing their patients without the main oversight body even finding out.
Proponents of the law also insisted that it would be applied only in terminal cases, i.e., patients who were nearing death and could no longer bear the anguish associated with their conditions. Yet the law opened the door to other kinds of cases. . . .
The number of patients euthanized for non-physical, non-terminal ailments has exploded since legalization. By the 2014-15 reporting period, 15 percent of total cases were non-terminal and 3 percent involved people with mental or behavioral conditions. There had been a “notable increase” in dementia cases, according to the control committee. That raises serious questions over whether physicians (or family members of the euthanized) are riding roughshod over the requirement that patients “requesting” euthanasia are “legally competent.”
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