One person’s choice affects so many others, as Tom Mortier, a teacher in Belgium discovered. He once supported the country’s liberal euthanasia laws for the reasons that many do: it seemed to him if a person wants to end their life, it’s their choice. But one person’s tragic decision changed all that.
“My mother had a severe mental problem,” Mortier explains. “She had to cope with depression throughout her life. Psychiatrists had treated her for years, and we lost a little bit of contact. It had never been an easy relationship. A year later, she received a lethal injection,” he pauses. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection, nor the hospital, had informed him or any of his siblings that his mother was even considering euthanasia.
“And the day after, I was contacted by the hospital, asking me to take care of the practicalities following the euthanasia of my mother.” His anger and sadness are palpable. “You see how terribly this injustice has impacted his family and how terribly he feels betrayed,” says Robert Clarke, an English barrister and Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who represents Tom Mortier before the European Court of Human Rights.
“The big problem in our society,” states Mortier, “is that apparently we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other.” When euthanasia, or doctor-assisted death, was first legalized in Belgium, most people understood “unbearable suffering” to mean a physical terminal illness. Promises were made that euthanasia would be well regulated, with strict criteria. But today, fifteen years later, the demand for euthanasia has increased a hundredfold from when it was first legalized. Now, deteriorating eyesight, hearing and mobility – what we might consider normal aging – can be considered by law as “unbearable suffering” and qualify patients for euthanasia. And yet still some have pushed for more. The next step was legalizing child euthanasia which happened in 2014 – there is now no age restriction for minors in Belgium.
Lawmakers have proposed limiting freedom of conscience by silencing doctors who are opposed to carrying out euthanasia, and most recently, in the Netherlands, a bill has been proposed to allow euthanasia just for being “tired of life.”
The big problem in our society is that apparently we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other.
Euthanasia is quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. “You see how it goes further and further,” says Robert Clarke. “And so that’s why it is important to show that there is no logical stopping point once you go down that road.” In the shadow of this bleak cultural shift, ADF International launched the “Affirming Dignity” campaign. First-hand video testimonies seek to illuminate the reality of euthanasia laws in Belgium and the Netherlands.
“We want to encourage robust debate by warning other countries of the slippery slope that we always see when this sort of legislation is passed,” says Clarke. Tom Mortier shares his story in the documentary produced for this campaign, along with experts on ethics, , nursing, psychotherapy, and pediatric palliative care.
“In the UK it seems that every other year Parliament discusses a bill aimed at legalizing euthanasia. This push is dangerous and we want for people to be able to learn from the experience in those few places that have gone down this dark path.”
To view the videos and join the campaign efforts, visit AffirmingDignity.org.
Share the videos, organize screenings at parishes, churches, or universities, contact your member of Parliament, or just bring up the topic with those around you. And please, consider if you can support this work financially.
“We need to say loud and clear that there is no ‘right to die’ under international law and that euthanasia is really no solution at all,” says Clarke.
ADF International hopes the campaign will continue to grow and spread. It is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the weak, the elderly, the vulnerable – those most likely to be affected – before these laws travel any further.ADF International