This is a full transcript, in the original English, of an interview with Robert Clarke, of ADF International, about euthanasia in Belgium. The news report, in Portuguese, can be read here.
Esta é uma transcrição completa, no inglês original, de uma entrevista a Robert Clarke, da ADF International, sobre a eutanásia na Bélgica. A reportagem pode ser lida aqui.
And you help people of any faith?
That's right. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right and one which we support and uphold.
I understand ADF represents Mr. Tom Mortier in his case in the European Court of Human Rights. Could you explain the basics of the case?
If the case goes your way, is this something that could make euthanasia illegal in Belgium?
The ECHR is considering a specific case here and at the current time the emphasis has shifted back to Belgium. The public prosecutor is in receipt of a file and is looking into it and the decision rests with them at the moment, as to whether or not they continue with the investigation. Of course the ECHR will be very interested to hear the outcome of that, and we'll continue to push things there if the prosecutor decides not to take any action or causes an undue delay in carrying out their investigation and any possible remedy for Tom.
The position of the ECHR is that it will look into the case and we hope, yes, that it will challenge the legislation that Belgium has put in place, which fails to protect the vulnerable in society, which fail's to protect people like Tom's mother, and fails to protect people like Tom.
|Tom Mortier's mother|
Could you describe the current law about Euthanasia in Belgium?
The law in Belgium allows someone who is suffering from a condition - and its not necessary for that condition to be physical, it can be mental, which is a significant difficulty - to approach a doctor, there is no requirement for that doctor to be their treating physician, and indeed in Mrs Mortier's case, the person consulted was not her treating physician, she had a treating psychiatrist of many years, who had on her initial request suggested that she wouldn't be a candidate for euthanasia, that it wasn't an appropriate option for her, and so she approached Dr. Distelmans someone who is very well known in the media, someone who has a high public profile, and asked if he would do it.
As I say, there is no requirement any longer that the patient be an adult, or that they have obtained the age of majority. The request has to be made, it has to be repeated, and the law says that it cannot be the result of any external pressure. Well how do you assess that?
This is a difficulty which we see throughout the law, because it asks that the patient in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering, which cannot be alleviated... These are difficult judgements, and essentially when you ask questions like “is the request voluntary?” and “is it well considered?” That is not a medical judgement, that is not the sort of judgement that a doctor has been trained for and, in our experience, it is a decision many doctors don't feel comfortable with it and it is not something that they are trained to do or want to do, and in a lot of cases it is not something that they feel is right, to assess whether or not a patient is in a state of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated and has made a well-considered and repeated request.
In short there are just no safeguards within this law that would put anyone's mind at rest that this is a practice which is safe, that it should be encouraged, or should be promoted. We see it time and time again, the cases come up which raise very serious questions.
In fact the first time in the history of the federal Euthanasia commission's reviews of these cases, they referred a case for criminal investigation, in relation to a physically healthy elderly lady who had simply become "tired of living" and despite what some people would say are the safeguards in the law, she was able to go through the process and be euthanized at the hands of, again, another well-known doctor who is an outspoken advocate for euthanasia.
I think we have to get away from this idea, this image of the velvet pillow death, in which somebody dies in a comfortable room, surrounded by their family. Because that is not what happened in this case and it is not what happened in cases we heard about. In this case a woman who was depressed, was able to go, after relatively few consultations, after a relatively short period of time, to be euthanised without the knowlege of her son. Despite this feeling of distance between her and her son being part of the reason for the occurence of the depression.
So we have to get away from this image. There are only a small number of countries in the World that have legalised euthanasia, and they have drawn criticism from UN monitoring bodies for their failure to safeguard vulnerable people, the ECHR has upheld laws which prohibit euthanasia in a number of countries because the ECHR and the UN bodies I have mentioned recognize that countries have an obligation to protect a right to life. There is no right to death under the European Convention of Human Rights, or under other International instruments.