Gross v Switzerland: the Swiss regulation of assisted suicide infringes Article 8 ECHR

This guest post was written by Daria Sartori, Ph.D candidate in Criminal Law at Trento University (Italy). She is interested in the relationship between Criminal Law and Human Rights, and she is presently working in Italy and abroad on a research project about the Principle of Legality and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Gross v Switzerland is the first judgment in which a member State’s position on assisted suicide is held to be incompatible with Article 8 ECHR by the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court undoubtedly reached an original and interesting conclusion, albeit by a strict majority of four votes to three. However, the relevance of this judgment is more apparent than real: Gross v Switzerland opens the door to the concrete use of Article 8 ECHR in cases relating to assisted suicide, without implying the acknowledgment of a “right to die” under the European Convention.
Leaving aside any criticism of the European Court’s attitude toward this delicate (and much debated) topic, in this post I wish to highlight a relevant mistake affecting the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

Haas v. Switzerland and Assisted Suicide

The applicant in Haas v. Switzerland was a 57 years old male who suffered from a bipolar disorder since nearly 20 years. Wishing to commit suicide, Mr. Haas attempted to obtain a lethal substance (sodium pentobarbital) that was only available on medical prescription. To that end, he contacted several psychiatrists, but was not able to obtain a prescription. Mr. Haas filed applications with the domestic authorities to obtain permission to acquire the substance without prescription, but they all rejected his applications, up to the Federal Tribunal, inter alia because his case did not reveal any urgency that would justify departure from the regulatory framework.

Mr. Haas then sent a letter to 170 doctors, requesting their assistance in obtaining a prescription. None replied positively. Some answered that they were not competent to deliver such a prescription, some refused for ethical reasons and others replied that his condition was treatable.

Mr. Haas subsequently filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, complaining of a violation of his right to respect for his private life. He argued that, due to the domestic courts’ decisions, his right to decide the moment and the manner of his death had not been respected. He maintained that, in exceptional circumstance, such as his, access to the necessary substances should be provided by the State.

Continue reading