News from Europe

EU member states can continue to prohibit assissted suicide, says the ECHR

On June 13, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in Dániel Karsai v. Hungary that Member States may continue to prohibit assisted suicide. The Court supported Hungary's stance, stating that banning euthanasia and assisted suicide aligns with the “right to life” under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and international law.


This decision is particularly significant given the restrictions some countries impose on the freedom of conscience of medical personnel who object to euthanasia.

The Court emphasized that “a majority of the Council of Europe’s member States continue to prohibit” euthanasia, noting that only six States have legalized assisted suicide. Thus, the Court concluded there was no obligation for Member States to provide access to assisted suicide. It highlighted that the inherent suffering of terminally ill individuals requires a humane approach, including palliative care guided by compassion and high medical standards. The Court also noted the serious risks of abuse and error associated with physician-assisted dying.

In Hungary, assisted suicide is criminalized, including any assistance provided outside the country, as per the Hungarian Criminal Code. ECHR judge Wojtyczek emphasized that any form of euthanasia or related legislation would lack a legal basis under the Convention and contradict the fundamental right to life.

However, the ECHR acknowledged that its position might evolve, reflecting changes in Member States’ attitudes and developments in European societies and international medical ethics standards. The Court cautiously suggested that a right to assisted suicide could be recognized if a significant number of European states legalize the practice.

This approach has been heavily criticized by human rights organizations like the ECLJ, which argued that linking human rights to the number of countries legalizing assisted suicide is philosophically flawed and makes human rights contingent on political developments.

Recent trends, such as the blacklisting of medical professionals who object to euthanasia in Spain and the prohibition for healthcare institutions to refuse euthanasia on faith grounds in Belgium, underscore the importance of the ECHR’s ruling in safeguarding the freedom of conscience.


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