A small victory for common sense

The European Court of Human Rights, in a unanimous verdict in the case of Haas v. Switzerland, has declared that there is no right to assisted suicide. This case was about a clash between Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to privacy, and Article 2 which guarantees the right to life.

The Court stated that there does appear to be a right to suicide implied in Article 8. In 2002 it approved the right of a British woman Diane Pretty, to kill herself if she found life undignified and distressing. But most member states give the right to life more weight than the supposed “right” to suicide.

57-year-old Swiss national, Ernst G. Haas suffered from a serious bipolar affective disorder for 20 years, has twice attempted suicide, and now wants to kill himself with sodium pentobarbital, a prescription-only drug. After attempts in Swiss courts to obtain it without prescription, and a staggering 170 psychiatrists having apparently refused to prescribe it for him, he argued in the European court 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.

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 were proper safeguards.

The Swiss are reported to be considering tightening up their law on assisted suicide, of which the Italian lawyer Minelli has taken advantage at his sleazy Dignitas operation.