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Europe rights court rules Switzerland laws on assisted suicide too vague

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment, press release, PDF] Tuesday that Swiss law does not provide sufficient guidelines on the extent of the right to die, in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF]. Article 8 protects an individual's right to respect for private life, which was interpreted by the court in the 2011 case Haas v. Switzerland [judgment, PDF] to include an individual's right to decide the way in which and at which point his or her life should end, so long as he was in a position to form his own judgment and act accordingly. In the present case of Gross v. Switzerland, applicant Alda Gross, an elderly Swiss woman, petitioned the ECHR [AP report] after she could not find a doctor to prescribe her a lethal dosage because she suffered from no clinical illnesses. She had argued she was entitled to end her life rather than become increasingly frail. The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland [official website, in German] has previously ruled that a doctor could issue a lethal dosage to a patient after taking certain steps, but no distinction was ever made as to whether those guidelines applied strictly to those suffering from a terminal illness. Because of this absence of clear guidelines, the court limited itself to ruling that Gross's right to respect for her private life was violated without taking a stance on the substantive content of Switzerland's assisted suicide guidelines.

The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue around the world. The only European countries that allow assisted suicide are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Last month, the Supreme Court of Ireland rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a paralyzed woman seeking to allow her partner to help her commit suicide. Although Ireland decriminalized suicide in 1993, it is still a crime to assist another to commit suicide. In December a report released by the French government recommended [JURIST report] that the country permit doctors to "accelerate death" for terminally ill patients seeking doctor-assisted euthanasia. In August the High Court of England and Wales denied [JURIST report] the plea of a paralyzed man challenging the legitimacy of the Suicide Act 1961 and other laws barring his ability to commit suicide. In 2011 an Indian high court ruled [JURIST report] passive euthanasia was permitted under certain circumstances. In 2010 a German court ruled [JURIST report] that removing a patient from life support would not be a criminal offense if the patient had previously given consent.

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