Wednesday, October 9, 2013

European Court of Human Rights: The Grand Chamber to rule on a right to assisted suicide

STRASBOURG, France — The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear an appeal in a lawsuit filed against the Swiss government after authorities there would not provide a woman who does not suffer from any fatal disease with drugs to commit suicide. An ECHR panel ruled 4-3 in May of this year that Switzerland’s law banning lethal poison in such circumstances violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life) because the court considered the law vague.

“The government has an obligation to protect life, not facilitate death,” said Legal Counsel Paul Coleman. “Claims to personal autonomy do not override national laws designed to protect the weak and vulnerable. We trust the Grand Chamber will support this principle, which is entirely consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.”


In March 2012, Alliance Defending Freedom intervened in the case and explained, “The clear jurisprudence of the Court is that there is no right to assisted suicide or euthanasia under the Convention, nor are there any positive obligations on the State in regard to these issues, save the positive duty on the States to protect life under Article 2.”

Although Switzerland is one of only four European countries to allow doctor-prescribed death in certain circumstances, individuals can obtain sodium pentobarbital, a drug that can be used to commit suicide, only after a medical examination and prescription by a doctor.

Alda Gross, a Swiss citizen, failed to find a doctor prepared to prescribe the lethal substance to her, so she appealed to the national courts in 2009. The Swiss courts held that the restrictive conditions placed on the drug are in place to prevent abuse and cannot be overridden in the absence of a medical prescription. They also noted that Gross “does not suffer from a fatal disease.”

The Gross v. Switzerland case is the most recent attempt to create a “right” to assisted suicide under the European Convention. In a very similar case, Haas v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights in 2011 unanimously rejected the claim that the country had an obligation to assist individuals in committing suicide.

  • Pronunciation guide: Gross (GROHS’)
  • Case summary
  • Second Section decision

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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