There is no human right to
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
could no longer live a dignified life after battling a serious bipolar
affective disorder for 20 years. He twice attempted suicide, but then
the idea of using sodium pentobarbital, a prescription-only drug. But no
psychiatrist would prescribe it for him. He then asked the Swiss
permission to obtain sodium pentobarbital without a prescription. He
that Article 8 imposed on the State a “positive obligation” to create
conditions for suicide to be committed without the risk of failure and
Swiss courts refused. Mr Haas then asked 170 different psychiatrists
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
Court of Human Rights.
January 20, the Court handed down its decision. It acknowledged that
appear to be a right to suicide implied in Article 8. This has been
by the 2002 Pretty case, in which the Court approved the right of a
woman to kill herself if she found life undignified and distressing.
Article 2 of the Convention also guarantees the right to life. Most
states give the right to life more weight than the right to suicide.
Court pointed out that a prescription system is supposed to protect
from making hasty decisions and to prevent abuse. That was all the more
a country such as Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. It also
that the risk of abuse inherent in a system which facilitated assisted
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