Just after their government legalised euthanasia for children of any age, Belgian medical authorities have received a formal complaint against the leading practitioner in Belgium, Dr Wim Distelmans. Although Dr Tom Mortier's mother had told him she was intending to go for euthanasia, he had been reassured that she would be refused, and she had not, so far as he knew, been accepted under Belgian criteria. In the end, she was killed by Distelmans in 2012 without his knowledge.
Mortier along with Dr Georges Casteur, allege that Distelmans did not have the expertise to evaluate whether Godelieva De Troyer, was ready for voluntary euthanasia. Distelmans is an oncologist, not a psychiatrist and was not even De Troyer's doctor beforehand. She was physically healthy and not suffering from physical pain, and had spoken with psychiatrists who thought that her emotional distress was at least treatable. In fact, she was taking medication at the time, which can cause suicidal ideation - so clearly a treatment plan was in place and it may have been causing serious side-effects. Distelmans, it seems, did not take that into account.
The media generally describe euthanasia as a tender death with patients surrounded by loving family in agreement with the person's wish to commit suicide or be euthanized. But De Troyer refused to involve her family because, Tom Mortier believes, of her clinical depression which was very much exacerbated by her 'losses' - the break-up of her own relationship, and with the accompanying break from her family. That depression, he believes, might have been helped if she could have re-established contact with her children and grandchildren.
Euthanasia supporters argue that, under Belgian law, if the patient refuses, it would be a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality to contact the relatives. Mortier acknowledges this but is convinced that any doctor truly concerned about helping his mother should have insisted that this at least be tried, certainly before euthanasia could be considered. Distelmans is not a psychiatrist (but an oncologist): how could he be the judge of De Troyer's treatment, or the possible impact of that family contact?
Mortier also reports that two months before she died his mother made a donation of 2,500 Euros to the Life End Information Forum (LEIF) which Distelmans co-founded. 'Can it be right that patients give money to an organization where the chairman subsequently kills them?' he asks. Should anyone involved in euthanasia ever be open to accusations of profiteering? But regulation of euthanasia in Belgium is a huge issue.
In a bizarre twist, Distelmans administers euthanasia to many patients, yet he leads the commission which is supposed to investigate any failure to observe the euthanasia law! Surely, this is a clear conflict of interest? Especially when this commission has not prosecuted one single case brought before it (and remember only 53% are actually reported - the rest are not). And when former senators who voted for the euthanasia law are now in this commission. with nearly half of all deaths being left unreported (illegal), nurses being involved in killing patients (illegal) and people with dementia who cannot possibly give informed consent also being euthanized - again illegal under Belgian law. This law is seriously compromised for adults never mind young children.
Now it is too late for the seriously depressed adult Godelieva De Troyer, and for Tom Mortier and his wife who took the call from the clinic announcing they had killed her mother-in-law and for their three young children.
Distelmans apparently did not wish to make any detailed comment to the media on the complaint, but he did point out that it was the first complaint which had ever been made against him, in 11 years of doing euthanasia.
Maybe that's because he has had free rein until now - what is needed now is more of the tenacity and sheer courage of people like Tom Mortier to expose the truth about what is really going on in the name of the law in Belgium.
Published: 26th February 2014