February 24, 2024

No right to assisted suicide, says European Rights Court

Swiss man denied right to a prescription-only drug

There is no human right to assisted
suicide, the European Court of Human Rights has declared, in a unanimous

The background to this important judgement is
in Switzerland. A 57-year-old Swiss national, Ernst G. Haas, felt that he
could no longer live a dignified life after battling a serious bipolar
affective disorder for 20 years. He twice attempted suicide, but then hit upon
the idea of using sodium pentobarbital, a prescription-only drug. But no
psychiatrist would prescribe it for him. He then asked the Swiss government for
permission to obtain sodium pentobarbital without a prescription. He argued
that Article 8 imposed on the State a “positive obligation” to create the
conditions for suicide to be committed without the risk of failure and without

Swiss courts refused. Mr Haas then asked 170 different psychiatrists whether
they could examine him with a view to getting his hands on some sodium
pentobarbital. They all refused.

As a result, Mr Haas invoked Article 8 of
the European Convention on Human Rights,
which guarantees a right to privacy, and sued the Swiss government in the European
Court of Human Rights.

January 20, the Court handed down its decision. It acknowledged that there does
appear to be a right to suicide implied in Article 8. This has been strengthened
by the 2002 Pretty case, in which the Court approved the right of a British
woman to kill herself if she found life undignified and distressing.

Article 2 of the Convention also guarantees the right to life. Most member
states give the right to life more weight than the right to suicide.

Court pointed out that a prescription system is supposed to protect vulnerable people
from making hasty decisions and to prevent abuse. That was all the more true in
a country such as Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. It also declared
that the risk of abuse inherent in a system which facilitated assisted suicide can
not be underestimated. That is why a prescription from a doctor and a
psychiatric examination to ensure free will are proper safeguards. ~ Human Rights Europe, Jan 20

Michael Cook
assisted suicide