NRL News

European Court: Assisted Suicide Not a Human Right

by | Jun 17, 2024

By Wesley J. Smith

Back in 1997, the euthanasia movement tried to gain an assisted-suicide Roe v. Wade. It didn’t work out. The Supreme Court instead ruled in Glucksberg v. Washington 9–0 that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, which, in a delicious irony, became the primary precedent applied in Dobbs to overturn Roe.

At the same time, the high court also ruled that refusing life-sustaining treatment is not the same thing as suicide in Vacco v. Quill. In other words, “pulling the plug” is allowing nature to take its course and not self-killing.

Now, some 27 years later, the European Court of Human Rights has issued a similar ruling. In a case brought by an ALS patient who wants to die, the court decided instead that countries can outlaw assisted suicide (PAD, physician-assisted death) without violating the human rights of the terminally ill and, moreover, that self-killing is not the same thing as refusing or withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment (RWI). From Karsai v. Hungary:

The Court further notes that it has found it justified for Hungary to maintain an absolute ban on assisted suicide, on account, among other aspects, of the risks of abuse involved in the provision of PAD, which may extend beyond those involved in RWI…the potential broader social implications of PAD; the policy choices involved in its provision…; and the considerable margin of appreciation afforded to the States in this respect.


Similar cogent reasons exist under Article 14 for justifying the allegedly different treatment of those terminally ill patients who are dependent on life-sustaining treatment and those patients who are not, and who in consequence cannot hasten their death by refusing such treatment. The Court would note in this connection that, in contrast to the situation with regard to PAD, the majority of the member States allow RWI… Furthermore, as mentioned above, the right to refuse or withdraw consent to interventions in the health field is recognised also in the Oviedo Convention, which, in contrast, does not safeguard any interests with regard to PAD.


The Court therefore considers that the alleged difference in treatment of the aforementioned two groups of terminally ill patients is objectively and reasonably justified

This is excellent news. But the court did not rule — as Glucksberg did not about states — that countries cannot legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia.

This puts the issue squarely in the democratic sphere. Hence, it is up to us to prevent the death agenda’s spread.

Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and reposted with his permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide