States Not Obliged to Assist Persons Wishing to Commit Suicide – Antoine Buyse

23 January 2011 by

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights decided in the case of Haas v. Switzerland (judgment in French only) that the right to private life is not violated when a state refuses to help a person who wishes to commit suicide by enabling that person to obtain a lethal substance.

The applicant in the case, Ernst Haas, had for two decades been suffering from a serious bipolar affective disorder (more commonly known as manic depression). During that time he attempted to commit suicide twice. Later, he tried to obtain a medical prescription for a small amount of sodium pentobarbital, which would have allowed him to end his life without ain or suffering. Not a single psychiatrist, of the around 170 (sic!) he approached, was willing to give him such a prescription. This would have been necessary, under Swiss law, which allowed for assisted suicide if it was not done for selfish motives (in the opposite case, the person assisting could be prosecuted under the criminal code).

In Strasbourg, at the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Haas claimed that under the right to respect for private life (Article 8 ECHR) Switzerland was obliged to help him to commit suicide in a manner without risk or pain, that is by way of helping him to access the required amount of sodium pentobarbital.

The case clearly raises problems somewhat similar to the famous Pretty v United Kingdom judgment of the Court in 2002, in which the European Court held that the refusal to guarantee the non-prosecution of the husband of the terminally ill Diane Pretty did not violate human rights. The Court distinguished the present case from Pretty: Haas was – contrary to Pretty – not terminally ill nor unable due to such illness to commit suicide himself. Not so much the ability to commit suicide was at stake, but the claim that if the applicant would not obtain the substance he demanded he would have to commit suicide in an undignified way.

The Court held in the Haas judgment that the right to respect for private life includes the right for individuals to decide in which way and at which moment his or her life should end, om the condition that the person is able to make up his or her mind freely on this and to act accordingly.

Looking at the Convention as a whole, the Court held that states should balance privacy rights with the protection of the right to life (Article 2 ECHR) which included protecting persons against themselves, in cases in which the decision to commit suicide was not arrived at freely and consciously. In this difficult balancing act there is no European consensus – the margin of appreciation is thus wide. In fact, the Court noted that Switzerland was leaning relatively towards the protection of Article 8 rights as compared to most other European countries which put more emphasis on the protection of the right to life. All the more so, the Court saw the value of the safeguards against abuse and against precipitated decisions which the Swiss system has incorporated by requiring medical prescription for sodium pentobarbital. Indeed, the Court ascertained that Article 2 requires that states put a procedure in place which safguards that the decision to end one’s life reflects the free will of the person involved. The Swiss system of requiring a psychiatric report was a way of fulfilling that Convention requirement. Thus the Court held that the Convention had not been violated in this case.

As far as the case information shows, the applicant is still alive.

The press release in English can be found here.

This post first appeared on the ECHR Blog. It is reproduced with permission and thanks.

Related posts on the UK Human Rights Blog:

1 comment;

  1. Law Think says:

    There was only one option for the courts here, which was to invoke the margin of appreciation. If the courts had found for the applicant they would essentially bypass the political system to legalise euthanasia.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: