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Legal Group Fights Swiss Lawsuit Promoting Euthanasia (1819)

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case launched by a Swiss woman after she failed to secure a doctor’s prescription for drugs to commit suicide.

12/30/2013 Comment

WASHINGTON — The U.S.-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has issued a legal brief supporting Swiss laws that bar assisted suicide for those who do not suffer from any fatal disease.

“The government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death,” Alliance Defending Freedom’s Vienna-based legal counsel Paul Coleman said in a statement.

The legal group’s brief, submitted to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on Dec. 16, concerns the lawsuit Gross v. Switzerland.

Alda Gross, a Swiss citizen, filed suit against the Swiss government in 2009, after she failed to secure a doctor’s prescription for drugs to commit suicide. Switzerland is one of four European countries that permits assisted suicide by lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, but it requires a doctor’s examination and prescription for the drug.

The Swiss courts held that the restrictions on the drug are in place “to prevent abuse,” Alliance Defending Freedom said. The court ruled that Gross “does not suffer from a fatal disease,” and thus is not eligible for assisted suicide.

Alliance Defending Freedom intervened in the case in March 2012. It said that there is no right to assisted suicide or euthanasia under the European Convention on Human rights and no obligation of the governments toward these procedures, excepting their duty “to protect life” under existing human-rights laws.

In October 2013, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear an appeal of the case. A panel of the court in May ruled that the Swiss law banning assisted suicide for patients who are not terminally ill violates their right to privacy and family life found within the European Convention on Human Rights.

Previous legal cases, like 2011’s Haas v. Switzerland, have also attempted to establish a right to assisted suicide. In that case, the European Court of Human Rights rejected arguments asserting that the country had an obligation to facilitate citizens’ ability to commit suicide.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s December 2013 brief echoed this ruling. It declared that the European human-rights convention “protects the fundamental right to life of all the citizens that live within its jurisdiction.”

The legal group said this convention does not include “a ‘right’ to lethal poison, nor any other ‘procedural rights’ that may attach to this.”

Coleman said laws against the lethal use of these drugs have a reasonable basis.

“A person’s claim that she should be able to do whatever she pleases does not override national laws rightfully designed to protect the weak and vulnerable,” he said. “We are encouraging the Grand Chamber to uphold this principle, which is completely consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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