The European Court of Human Rights on June 13 ruled in favor of Hungary’s right to uphold its laws prohibiting assisted suicide, thus affirming the laws of 46 countries of the Council of Europe that protect human life.

The Council of Europe is the broadest coalition in Europe and is larger than the 26-member European Union. The United Kingdom is a member of the European Council, for example, but is not a member of the European Union.

ADF International, a global alliance of law firms defending human life, intervened in the case Karsai v. Hungary, arguing that Hungary’s prohibition of assisted suicide should be upheld because Hungary is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which upholds the right to life. ADF argued that while states have an obligation to protect the right to life, there is no right to die.

Jean-Paul Van De Walle, an attorney for ADF, said: “Instead of abandoning our most vulnerable citizens, society should do all it can to provide the best standards of care.”

“Worldwide, only a tiny minority of countries allow assisted suicide. Wherever the practice is allowed, legal ‘safeguards’ are insufficient to prevent abuses, proving most harmful to vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, the disabled, and those suffering from mental illness or depression. Suicide is something society rightly considers a tragedy to be prevented, and the same must apply to assisted suicide. Care, not killing, must be the goal we all strive towards,” Van De Walle said.

Hungarian lawyer Daniel Karsai, diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition, argued that criminalizing physician-assisted suicide violates the European Convention on Human Rights,  which protects private and family life and prohibits discrimination. Hungarian law would make those assisting his suicide liable to prosecution, and he argued that prohibiting PAS/E (physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia) was discriminatory because terminally ill patients are able to ask for treatment to be withdrawn.

ADF warned that abuses inevitably follow when the right to life is abolished.

“Removing such provisions from law creates a dangerous scenario where pressure is placed on vulnerable people to end their lives in fear (whether or not justified) of being a burden upon relatives, carers, or a state that is short of resources,” the brief stated.

The court concurred with ADF on June 13, finding “no basis for concluding that the member states are thereby advised, let alone required, to provide access” to assisted suicide. The court said there are risks of error and abuse in providing physician-assisted dying, and huge societal implications

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The court also found that Hungary’s law prohibiting PAS/E protects the disabled and terminally ill. 

“Hungarian society did not encourage the sick to seek death but sought instead to provide them with care and support,” it said, affirming the right of patients to refuse unwanted treatment, which is recognized by the Council of Europe and connected to the right to free and informed consent. The court found no discrimination in Karsai’s case.

Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain are the only Council of Europe members with legalized assisted suicide. This is despite a 2012 resolution by the Council of Europe assembly that stated that euthanasia, “the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.”

Critics of PAS/E fear that redefining terminal illness, and the growing number of jurisdictions allowing PAS/E, will further jeopardize the infirm and mentally ill.

While nonvoluntary euthanasia is illegal in all 50 states of the United States, physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia is legal in the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Washington, and Hawaii.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center clarifies: “Euthanasia is categorized in different ways …Voluntary euthanasia is when a person wishes to have their life ended and is legal in a growing number of countries. Nonvoluntary euthanasia occurs when a patient’s consent is unavailable and is legal in some countries … in both active and passive forms. Involuntary euthanasia, which is done without asking for consent or against the patient’s will, is illegal in all countries and is usually considered murder.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator” (No. 2324).

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