European countries are not under a duty to assist individuals to commit suicide, according to a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.
The ruling this week came in the case of Haas v Switzerland, where the complainant said that his inability to obtain lethal drugs to kill himself was a violation of his right to privacy.
Mr Haas suffers from a serious psychiatric disorder, but is not suffering from a terminal illness.
The court said in its ruling that, while there was arguably a right to die in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private life), there was an obligation on states to ensure the protection of the right to life under Article 2.
“The Court notes that the vast majority of member States place more weight on the protection of an individual’s life than on the right to end one’s life and concludes that the States have a broad margin of appreciation in that respect,” according to a press release on the decision issued by the European Centre for Law and Justice.
The decision has been welcomed by campaigners seeking to prevent assisted suicide from being legalised.
Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, said, “parliamentarians and judges who consider the matter carefully are not fooled by emotive arguments, hard cases and misinformed public opinion.
“In a democratic society there are limits to human autonomy”, he continued. “The law is there primarily to protect vulnerable people and public safety will always trump the demands of determined individuals backed by pressure groups who want to undermine existing laws”.
The case is the latest in a number of attempts through courts and parliaments around the world to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia. In April last year, a bill brought before the Canadian parliament that would have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide was defeated by 228 votes to 59.
A similar bill in South Australia was defeated in November by a majority of 12 to 9.
And in the same month, MSP Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill was defeated in the Scottish Parliament by a margin of 85 votes to 16.
Notwithstanding these matters, the Commission on Assisted Dying was launched in November last year, backed by pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying and Sir Terry Pratchett, who is a pro-euthanasia campaigner.
Commenting on attempts by the commission to justify a change in the law, Dr Saunders remarked: “one hopes that British parliamentarians are reading their newspapers and learning from the wisdom of jurisdictions all around the world.”