Gross v. Switzerland: Legalizing Suicide-on-Demand?


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?

Image: Yahoo

Source: ECHR


  1. Although, I am in support of one’s personal freedoms, a law such as this is one that can easily snowball and have horrible consequences. If a country allows its people to obtain lethal poison when they see fit then every slightly depressed individual can quickly resort tot this option and end their life for little to no legitimate reason. A person should indeed be free to choose how they live their lives but I think too many problems arise when you allow a person greater freedom when it comes to choosing when they want to die. While it is true that any person can commit suicide without obtaining this poison it still does not take away from the fact that legalizing this will make it an easier and more viable option then say perhaps buying a gun. Also, as was mentioned does a country really want to make this type of poison so easily available to the public? How can we know that an angry spouse will not use it to poison their significant other or a disgruntled employee to their boss? Again, these parties may be able to commit these dirty deeds through other illegal means but making this product legal makes the crime a lot easier to commit and all these possible negative consequences simply outweigh the individual right for a person to end their life when they see fit.

  2. I absolutely agree with everything that you have said. The consequences of allowing easy access to this poison will be unthinkable. People would essentially be able to commit suicide at a whim. It is certainly true that any person can commit suicide without obtaining this poison but the fact that you can obtain this poison to commit suicide does not help matters. I liked your point about how access to the poison will affect things such as your relationship with your spouse or boss. It is certainly a matter that cannot be taken lightly. Who knows what people will do with the poison once they are able to obtain it. There could even be a black market for the poison once it is easier for people to obtain it. I believe if this is allowed there needs to be strict guidelines as to when, where, how, and why the person is asking for the poison. There should also be some sort of fact finding process to support the person’s reasons for the poison.

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