Court rulings

 

European Court of Human Rights in Strassbourg

 

The European Court of Human Rights (Link)

European Convention on Human Rights (Link)

HUDOC Database / Search Portal of The Court (Link)

Judgment of 29 April 2002 in the case of Diane Pretty v. the United Kingdom, application no. 2346/02 (Link)

Judgment of 20 January 2011 in the case of Haas v. Switzerland, application no. 31322/07, in French (Link)

Press Release on this judgement (PDF)

Press release regarding the Chamber Hearing in the case of Koch v. Germany, application no. 497/09 (PDF)

Decision of 31 May 2011 as to the admissibility of the case Koch v. Germany, application no. 497/09 (Link) and Press Release (PDF). The Court of Human Rights has declared the application admissible.

Judgment of 19 July 2012 in the case Koch v. Germany (Link)

Judgment of 14 May 2013 in the case of Gross v. Switzerland, application no. 67810/10 (Link)

Decision of 30 September 2014 of the Grand Chamber in the case of Gross v. Switzerland, application no. 67810/10, not to pursue the case (Link)

Switzerland had requested that the decision of 14 May 2013 be referred to the Grand Chamber, which was granted by the panel of the Grand Chamber. Shortly prior to a public hearing on the case, set for 2 April 2014, it became known that the applicant had passed away in the meantime.

Judgment of 5 June 2015 in the case of Vincent Lambert and Others v. France
, application no. 46034/14 (Link
)

When considering the question whether discontinuing measures to keep Mr. Lambert alive would be permissible, the ECHR decided by 12:5 votes that no violation of article 2 (right to life) would result from this. Therefore, the judgment of the French High Court, the Conseil d’État, can be implemented. This signifies that the life-sustaining measures of Vincent Lambert, who has been tetraplegic, fully dependent, artificially nourished and in persistent vegetative state (PVS) since a road accident on 29 September 2009 can be discontinued.


Judgment of 23 June 2015 in the cases of Lamb and Nicklinson against the United Kingdom, applications nos. 2478/15 and 1787/15 (Link)

In this decision, the ECHR joined the applications of almost entirely paralysed Paul Lamb and Tony Nicklinson , who had suffered from a locked-in-syndrome and deceased in 2012 – represented by his wife – and declared the applications inadmissible.

 


United Kingdom

 

Decision of 30 July 2009 by the House of Lords (Link)

Additional information by Debbie Purdy's lawyer (Link)

Mrs. Debbie Purdy, an UK citizen suffering from multiple sclerosis, brought a case against the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Keir Starmer, to the Law Lords: she wanted to know whether or not her husband would be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) if he would help her to travel abroad to have an assisted suicide. The ruling forced the CPS to state exactly when it would take action against those who help their loved ones end their lives abroad.

Decision of 25 June 2014 of the Supreme Court in the cases of Nicklinson, Lamb and Martin
(PDF)
.

Even though their appeal has been rejected, the Court finds that both Parliament and the Director of Public Productions (DPP) should reconsider the law and prosecuting policy on assistance to die. Though divided on the issue of whether the UK Suicide Act’s universal prohibition on assisted suicide is incompatible with the human right to private and family life – protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – a majority of the justices ruled that the Court could in theory declare the universal ban on assisted suicide incompatible unless Parliament acts to reform it.

 


Canada

 

Decision of 6 February 2015 of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) (Link): In a unanimous 9:0 decision Canada’s Supreme Court has struck down the country’s Criminal Code laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide. The rule will not come into force for another 12 months; however, it means it will no longer be against the law, under certain circumstances, for a doctor to help someone who is terminally ill to end their life.

Decision of 10 August 2012 of the British Columbia Supreme Court (Link): Madam Justice Prowse of the BC Court of Appeal has denied the Attorney General of Canada’s attempt to prevent Gloria Taylor from exercising her court-approved right to die.

Gloria Taylor, who is terminally ill, received in June a constitutional exemption allowing her to receive a lethal prescription, under very stringent conditions. At the same time, BC Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith also ruled that Canada’s law banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional and she gave parliament 12 months to fashion a new law. Since Ms Taylor was unlikely to live to benefit from any change in the law, Justice Smith afforded her an interim remedy to receive a doctor’s assistance.

Decision of 15 June 2012 of the British Columbia Supreme Court (Link): The BC Supreme Court has declared the absolute prohibition against assistance with suicide to be constitutionally invalid. In a 395-page decision, Madam Justice Smith gives the federal government 12 months to fashion a new law that allows assistance with suicide, subject to protecting the vulnerable from coercion and undue influence.

During the 12-month period and pending appeal, Gloria Taylor and any other person can apply for a constitutional exemption to receive lethal medication from a physician to end his or her life. The applicant must meet certain conditions, including requirements that he or she make a written request, be terminally ill and near death, of sound mind, and fully informed of treatment options such as palliative care.

 


United States of America

 

Decision of 31 December 2009 by the Supreme Court of the State of Montana (PDF): Under the Constitution of Montana, Article II, paragraph 4 and 10, terminally ill Robert Baxter has the right to a dignified death and at the same time his physician has the right to being protected from prosecution. Even though the right to physician assisted dying was not guaranteed by the Constitution of Montana, such assistance, taking into consideration court cases and the law, was not in conflict with public interests and therefore not illegal. The decision was done by 5 : 2.

Through this single-case decision, Montana became the third US-State which, in theory, has legalised physician-assisted-suicide

Decision of 6 February 2012 of the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia
(PDF): Under the Constitutions of the State of Georgia and the United States of America, the State’s assisted-suicide law violates the free speech clauses. Said law held that anyone could face up to 5 years in prison “who publicly advertises, offers or holds himself or herself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits any overt act to further that purpose.”

Writing for the court in a unanimous decision, Justice Hugh Thompson said: “The State has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity is sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights. Absent a more particularized State interest and more narrowly tailored statute, we hold the State may not, consistent with the United States and Georgia Constitutions, make the public advertisement or offer to assist in a suicide a criminal offense.”

Decision of 3 April 2014 by the Second Judicial District Court, Albuquerque, New Mexico (PDF): New Mexico State law provides a fundamental right to a terminally ill, competent patient to choose a physician’s aid in getting prescription medications that will allow a peaceful death, Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash ruled on April 3, 2014. The Court ruled that two oncologists at the University of New Mexico Hospital could not be prosecuted under the state’s Assisted Suicide Statute, which is defined as the act of “deliberately aiding another in the taking of his own life" and makes such assistance punishable.

 


South Africa

 

Judgment of 4 May 2015 of the High Court of South Africa (North Gauteng High Court) in the case number 27401/15 of Robert James Stransham-Ford v. the Minister of Justice and others (PDF)

In a Court Order of 30 April 2015 (PDF) and subsequent judgment of 4 May 2015, Judge Fabricius ruled that Robert James Stransham-Ford, who was dying of prostate cancer and who had asked the Court to determine whether a doctor could legally assist him to end his life, should be permitted to do so.

In its judgment of 6 December 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa overturned the High Court order. There is a possibility to now take the case to the Constitutional Court.

 


Germany

 

Decision BVerwG 3 C 19.15 of 2 March 2017 by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany (Link, in German)

Press release by DIGNITAS – To live with dignity – To die with dignity (PDF)

The Federal Administrative Court of Germany (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) in Leipzig issued a landmark decision in regard of access to the means for ending one’s suffering and life by one’s own action, and the right to die in general. This case concerned the wife of the claimant who, after an accident, had been almost totally paralysed (quadriplegic), needed 24/7 ventilation and suffered from pain and cramps. In 2005, she ended her ordeal by an accompanied suicide at DIGNITAS – To live with dignity – To die with dignity, however, before this, she started litigation continued by her husband which led to the now decision. In 2004, she tried to obtain the preferable means for an accompanied suicide from the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte BfArM) so that she could end her life at home, instead of having to do a practically and emotionally challenging journey to DIGNITAS in Switzerland. However, to little surprise, the Institute rejected her plea. Mr. Koch took over the fight for the right to die at home from his wife and appealed to the decision of the Institute. However, all German Courts rejected his arguments by stating that he was neither entitled to the claim brought up by his now deceased wife nor to own rights. In conclusion, he brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which, on 19 July 2002, decided that based on article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the German Courts at least should have looked into whether Mr. Koch’s plea had been reasonably justified. The case went back to square one, however, this time with the German Courts being forced to deal with the matter. Finally, in this second court case round, the Federal Administrative Court corrected the decisions by the Lower Courts and acknowledged that the decision of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devises had been unlawful. The general right to personality article 2,1 (right to life) in connection with article 1,1 (protection of human dignity) of the Basic Law (Constitutional Law) of Germany comprises the right of a severe and incurably ill patient to decide how and at what time his or her life shall end, provided that he or she is in a position to make up his or her own mind in that respect and act accordingly. The Court found, even though it was generally not possible to allow purchasing a narcotic substance for the purpose of suicide, there had to be exceptions. This, if a severe and incurably ill patient, due to his or her unbearable suffering, freely and seriously decides to wish an end to his or her life, and if there was no reasonable alternative available – such as to end treatment accompanied by palliative care. Such patients should not be barred from accessing prescribe narcotics for a dignified and painless suicide. The Court found that the Institute at least should have assessed whether such a case had been given with Mrs. Koch.

 
 

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