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AUL files brief to head off new “state obligation” to assist suicide

In an effort to head off a new “right” to state-assistance in suicide, Americans United for Life (“AUL”) filed a brief with the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) in a case concerning a Swiss woman’s efforts to end her life.  Earlier this year, the ECHR granted AUL’s motion to intervene, and AUL’s brief was filed a few days ago.

“No nation has an obligation to help its citizens commit suicide.  We hope a ruling in this case will make that clear beyond argument,” said William Saunders, Senior Counsel at AUL.

In prior cases, the ECHR indicated there was no general right to assisted suicide under the European Convention on Human Rights (the “Convention”), thereby leaving the matter to the individual member states of the Council of Europe to decide for themselves.  Four nations in Europe allow doctor-prescribed death, including Switzerland, which is involved in this case.

“AUL’s involvement in this case is vital given the the current trend in U.S. courts to look to international decisions to justify new social policy,” said Saunders. “A ruling in favor of a state obligation to assist in suicide could have a ripple effect in courts in the United States, perhaps encouraging them to ‘imply’ such a right under state constitutions. This would put vulnerable populations at risk, both in Europe and the U.S.”

The plaintiff in the case, Alda Gross, a Swiss citizen, is seeking to have the ECHR hold that Switzerland must make lethal drugs available to her.  When Swiss doctors denied her request to write her a prescription for life-ending drugs, she complained to the Swiss courts, but they too denied it.  Gross’ attorneys argue that  in order to guarantee her right to respect for her “private life” under the Convention, the ECHR should order the Swiss government to assist her to die as she wishes.

AUL’s brief demonstrates that, properly understood, a right to respect for one’s “private life” does not extend so far.  “Our brief discusses how even the expansive ‘personal liberty’ right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court was held, by the same Court, not to give a right to assisted suicide.”

AUL’s brief is part of an international project directed by Saunders.  AUL works in many nations to defend the lives of human beings at all stages – before birth as well as after.  Current projects include AUL’s recently published a study of pro-life laws in Latin America, called ‘Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America.’

To read AUL’s brief in the assisted suicide case, click here. For more on “Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” click here.