On May 14, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled 4-3 that Switzerland’s law denying the right to obtain lethal poison for assisted suicide was a violation of Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Swiss law was deemed to be too vague. This ruling breaks away from the clear jurisprudence of the Court. The Court’s position has been that there is no right to assisted suicide under the Convention. Furthermore, in 2011 the Court held in Haas v. Switzerland, that restricting access to lethal poison was not a violation of the Convention.
In this case, Alda Gross, the complainant, is an elderly woman who wished to end her life. She was unhappy with the decline of her physical and mental faculties. Switzerland is one of four European countries that does allow individuals to obtain sodium pentobarbital (a drug that can be used to commit suicide) to commit suicide from doctors under certain situations. The drug is only prescribed after a medical examination. However, Gross’s decline was due to advanced age and not from any clinical illness. As a result, she was unable to obtain a prescription for the drug. Switzerland argues that according to Swiss medical ethic guidelines, a doctor-prescribed death is only allowed when the patient is suffering from an illness deemed to end in “death within a matter of days or a few weeks.” Mrs. Gross argues that her right to private life was violated because the Swiss law is preventing her from deciding in how she chooses to die. The ECHR held, “Swiss law, while providing the possibility of obtaining a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital on medical prescription, does not provide sufficient guidelines ensuring clarity as to the extent of this right. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in this respect.” However, the decision is not final.
The Grand Chamber has agreed to hear an appeal, which is to be held on April 2, 2014. If this case, does allow “suicide on demand,” do you think it is the right ruling? If the Court rules in favor of Mrs. Gross it would mean that people can obtain prescription for suicide even if they are not suffering from a life ending illness. I believe this would lead to terrible consequences. What do you think could be the possible consequences if the Court rules in favor of Mrs. Gross? Should the Court make sure that there are strict guidelines regarding the right to obtain lethal drugs for suicide? Is the Swiss law really a violation of the right to private life? Isn’t the law just protecting people?