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

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
pain.

Various
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.

On
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.

However,
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.

The
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

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.