ECHR opens the door to assisted suicide and euthanasia in Europe
What’s at Stake
- Promoting the right to life from conception to natural death
- Protecting the weak and vulnerable in society
Assisted suicide is not permitted in the vast majority of countries within the Council of Europe, including Germany. So when Mr and Mrs Koch, a German couple, tried to obtain a lethal dose of drugs that would enable Mrs. Koch to commit suicide at home, their request was refused. But their attempt to obtain the drugs kicked off legal proceedings that progressed to the European Court of Human Rights, where the Court made an unprecedented decision.
Mrs Koch was paralyzed after an accident in 2002, but was expected to live at least another 15 years. Two years later she and her husband made a request for lethal drugs so that she could take her own life. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices denied the request, as did the German courts. In 2005, Mrs Koch committed suicide in Switzerland at the euthanasia facility, Dignitas.
After the death of his wife, Mr Koch launched a case against Germany at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), asserting that their case had not been properly heard in the German courts.
ADF International lawyers intervened in the case, arguing that the state reserves the right to protect life and should not be compelled to aid in destroying it. They argued further that the European Convention on Human Rights could not be interpreted as imposing an obligation on Germany to facilitate the act of suicide with narcotic drugs.
The ECHR’s decision was remarkable and extremely disconcerting. It held that Germany, in not allowing fatal drugs to be given to Mrs Koch had violated Article 8 of the Convention (respect for private and family life). Germany does not allow assisted suicide, as is the case in most countries within the Council of Europe. In this case, the European Court based its decision on procedural grounds and stopped short of saying that the right to privacy includes a right to assisted suicide.
Roger Kiska, senior counsel of ADF International, commented: “To say that Germany violated the privacy rights of a man because it refused his demand for lethal drugs so that his wife could kill herself is an unprecedented procedural nightmare with no basis in the European Convention on Human Rights. Questions of procedure must not be used to undermine the state’s imperative to uphold life and protect against abuse.’’
Our Role in the Case
ADF International represented the German pro-life organization, Aktion Lebensrecht für Alle, and provided legal arguments to the Court, making it clear that there is no right to assisted suicide or euthanasia under the European Convention on Human Rights.