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European Court of Human Rights rules: There is no right to assisted suicide in Europe.

by | Jun 18, 2024

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The European Court of Human Rights ruled (6 to 1) that under human rights law, there is not a right to assisted suicide in Europe.

The Irish Legal News reported on June 13 that:

Dániel Karsai, a prominent human rights lawyer in Budapest, Hungary, unsuccessfully argued that the criminalisation of physician-assisted dying (PAD) violated his rights under Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Karsai was challenging the Hungarian law prohibiting assisted suicide at the European Court of Human Rights.

The Irish Legal News reported

Under Hungarian law, anyone assisting him would risk prosecution, even if he died in a country which allows physician-assisted dying. He complained to the ECtHR of not being able to end his life with the help of others and of discrimination compared to terminally ill patients on life-sustaining treatment who are able to ask for their treatment to be withdrawn.

 

In today’s Chamber judgment, the court observed that there were potentially broad social implications and risks of error and abuse involved in the provision of physician-assisted dying.

The Court found that proper end-of-life care provides a dignified death and that withdrawal of treatment is different than assisting someone to die. The Irish Legal News reported:

The court considered that high-quality palliative care, including access to effective pain management, was essential to ensuring a dignified end of life.

According to the expert evidence heard by the court, the available options in palliative care, including the use of palliative sedation, were generally able to provide relief to patients in the applicant’s situation and allow them to die peacefully. Mr Karsai had not alleged that such care would be unavailable to him.

As regards the alleged discrimination, the court found that the refusal or withdrawal of treatment in end-of-life situations was intrinsically linked to the right to free and informed consent, rather than to a right to be helped to die.

This is widely recognised and endorsed by the medical profession, and also laid down in the Council of Europe’s Oviedo Convention. Furthermore, refusal or withdrawal of life-support was allowed by the majority of the member states. The court therefore considered that the alleged difference in treatment was objectively and reasonably justified.

ADF International, along with UK-based NGO Care Not Killing, intervened in the case of Karsai v. Hungary. They  stated in their media release that:

In its decision, the Court affirmed that prohibition of assisted suicide is in line with the country’s obligations under international law to protect life. Additionally, as the court pointed out, “the majority of the Council of Europe’s member States continue to prohibit” euthanasia and related practices (§ 165).

“We applaud today’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which upholds Hungary’s essential human rights protections. Although we deeply empathize with Mr. Karsai’s condition and support his right to receive the best care and relief possible, it is clear from other jurisdictions that a right to die quickly becomes a duty to die. Instead of abandoning our most vulnerable citizens, society should do all it can to provide the best standards of care,” said Jean-Paul Van De Walle, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

ADF explained how legalizing assisted suicide leads to abuses of the law.

“Worldwide, only a tiny minority of countries allow assisted suicide. Wherever the practice is allowed, legal ‘safeguards’ are insufficient to prevent abuses, proving most harmful to vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, the disabled, and those suffering from mental illness or depression. Suicide is something society rightly considers a tragedy to be prevented and the same must apply to assisted suicide. Care, not killing must be the goal we all strive towards,” Van De Walle explained.

ADF explained that the court ruled that refusal and withdrawal of treatment is different than assisting a suicide.

As regards the alleged discrimination, the court found that the refusal or withdrawal of treatment in end-of-life situations was intrinsically linked to the right to free and informed consent, rather than to a right to be helped to die.

This is widely recognised and endorsed by the medical profession, and also laid down in the Council of Europe’s Oviedo Convention. Furthermore, refusal or withdrawal of life-support was allowed by the majority of the member states. The court therefore considered that the alleged difference in treatment was objectively and reasonably justified.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide