European Court: States Aren't Obligate to Assist Suicide

Upholds Swiss Law Requiring Prescription for Lethal Drugs

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STRASBOURG, France, JAN. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Though the European Court of Human Rights in some way recognizes a so-called right to suicide, a decision Thursday denied that states have a positive obligation to provide citizens with the means to kill themselves.



The judgement closed a high-profile assisted suicide case, Haas vs. Switzerland. The case is that of a man suffering from manic depression who charged that Switzerland violated his right to private life by mandating a prescription in order to obtain a lethal substance so as to end his life. None of the psychiatrists contacted by the applicant would give him a prescription; his condition is not fatal.

The appeal to private life was based on the scope of that term -- from Article 8 of the European Convention -- previously ensured by the rights court. In 2002, the court ruled that an applicant's choice for how to end her life was part of the private sphere covered by the European Convention. The court thus affirms a right to suicide, though it conditions this right with two restrictions: that the individual can make up his own mind, and that he is able to perform the needed action.

Hence, the court protects a sort of right to suicide, but with Thursday's decision, it denied the existence of a right to assisted suicide stemming from the European Convention.

Grégor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice, noted that this new judgment confirms that one cannot rely on the Convention to claim an alleged right to euthanasia or to assisted suicide.

Furthermore, the court referenced Article 2 of the European Convention, which protects the right to life. It said that authorities are obligated to prevent a person from killing himself if the decision is not made "freely and with full knowledge."

And regarding the applicant's desire to obtain lethal drugs without a prescription, the court found that such a requirement aims to prevent abuse, and keep individuals from making a hasty decision.

A statement from the European Centre for Law and Justice summarized the ruling in this way: "Thus, in spite of the still problematic recognition of a sort of right to suicide, a peculiar and disputable extension of the right to private life, the court doesn’t endorse the allegations of the applicant according to which the state would have a positive obligation to take measures allowing for a rapid and painless suicide. On the contrary, under Article 2 which guarantees the right to life, the state must ensure the protection of the life of people under its jurisdiction. Even when assisted suicide is allowed, as in Switzerland, the state must prevent abuse in the use of this faculty because of [its] obligation to protect life."