European Court upholds Hungarian ban on assisted suicide
4 mins read

European Court upholds Hungarian ban on assisted suicide

European Court upholds Hungarian ban on assisted suicide
Photo of judges of the European Court of Human Rights sitting in the courtroom during a hearing. | Reuters/Vincent Kessler

The European Court of Human Rights affirmed nations’ sovereignty over the ban on assisted suicide, issuing a 6-to-1 ruling on Thursday upholding Hungary’s ban on the practice.

This decision reaffirms the commitment to protect life in accordance with international law in the face of ongoing debates about the ethical consequences of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

“The Court further notes that it found it justified for Hungary to maintain its total ban on assisted suicide,” the ruling states.

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“Furthermore, as mentioned above, the right to refuse or withdraw consent to health interventions is also recognized in the Oviedo Convention, which, however, does not safeguard any interests in relation to (physician-assisted dying). The Court therefore considers that the alleged difference in treatment of the above-mentioned two groups of terminally ill patients is objectively and reasonably justified.”

In case of Karsai v. HungaryHungarian citizen Dániel Karsai, a human rights lawyer with advanced stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), argued that Hungary’s ban on assisted suicide violates personal freedoms and dignity.

The legal group ADF International, together with the British non-governmental organization Care Not Killing, intervened in the case, arguing that the country’s ban was consistent with Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect life.

Jean-Paul Van De Walle, legal counsel for ADF International, praised the court’s decision.

“We commend today’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which upholds the basic mechanisms for the protection of human rights in Hungary,” he said. “While we deeply empathize with Mr. Karsai’s condition and support his right to the best possible care and assistance, it is clear from other jurisdictions that the right to a quick death becomes a duty to die.”

ADF International says maintaining legal bans on assisted suicide is essential to protect vulnerable citizens. The Court agreed with this view, stating that “there is no basis for inferring that Member States are thereby recommended, much less required, to provide access” to assisted suicide.

The Court recognized the inherent dangers of removing lifelong legal protections, noting that such removal could lead to pressure on vulnerable people to take their own lives out of fear of becoming a burden.

The judgment confirms the decision made in the ECtHR case from 2002, Pretty v. Great Britainwhich also upheld the ban on assisted suicide, citing the need to prevent exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people.

The judgment also touched on the role of medical and palliative care, stating that “it is part of the human condition that medicine will probably never be able to eliminate all aspects of the suffering of terminally ill people.”

The Court emphasized a humane approach to palliative care, guided by compassion and high medical standards to deal with such vulnerabilities.

Globally, the legalization of assisted suicide remains highly controversial, with only a few countries allowing the practice. The Court’s ruling noted that despite the trend of countries to legalize or decriminalize assisted suicide, most Council of Europe member states continue to prohibit and prosecute assisted suicide.

Van De Walle argues that legal “guarantees” to prevent harassment have proven insufficient, as evidenced by the various countries where assisted suicide is legal. Examples of abuse include euthanasia of young adults for untreatable depression and of elderly people for symptoms of aging, reflecting the inequality of such legal frameworks.

In 2012, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued Resolution No. 1859, which stated: “Euthanasia in the sense of intentional killing by the act or omission of a dependent human being for his alleged benefit must always be prohibited.”

“Once we as a society open the door to intentional killing, there will be no logical stopping point,” Van De Walle further noted. “How can we tell the difference between the person we bring off the bridge and the one we let die at the hands of a doctor? The state has an obligation to protect the fundamental value of human life. We should not implement legal changes that undermine this obligation to the detriment of society as a whole.”