Council of Europe delivers a victory for life
— European human rights body rules that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be banned in every country on the continent
By Stephen Reilly
Euthanasia and assisted suicide should be banned in every country in the continent, the Council of Europe has ruled.
In a declaration that will have legal implications in its 47 member states, the Strasbourg-based organisation announced that such practices ‘must always be prohibited.’
Victory for pro-lifers
The move will be a boost to pro-life campaigners who have been fighting attempts to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in many countries including Scotland.
The explicit condemnation of euthanasia was inserted into a non-binding resolution entitled: ‘Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients.’
The resolution had originally simply focused on the human rights questions of so-called living wills, in which people set out how they wish to be treated should they become mentally incapacitated.
However members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe argued that living wills, which became legal in Britain under the 2005 Mental Capacity Act, were inextricably connected to euthanasia.
They successfully moved an amendment forbidding euthanasia by 34 votes to 16 with six abstentions.
The amendment said that ‘euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit must always be prohibited.’
Among those fighting for the amendment was Edward Leigh (above), the Conservative MP for Gainsborough and a member of the assembly. He referred to the case of Kerrie Wooltorton, a 26- year-old from Norwich who died from poisoning in 2007 after her living will prevented doctors from resuscitating her.
“Can my fellow delegates here in Strasbourg imagine how they would feel if they received a phone call informing them that one of their children had drunk poison and that ambulance and hospital staff who had everything necessary to save the child’s life stood by not helping instead as the child lay dying?” Mr Leigh said. “That is a situation that advanced directives or living wills allow. This is not alarmist talk—this is the historic fact, the track record.”
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe was set up in 1949 to further integration by harmonising human rights laws among European states, although it is unable to pass laws itself.
Its resolution on euthanasia will help define the principles that should govern the application of living wills in its member states.
The council bases its work on the European Convention on Human Rights. It includes the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the convention and to which Europeans can bring cases if they believe that a member country has violated their rights.
It came a year after the European Court asserted that there is no right to euthanasia or assisted suicide under the European Convention. The resolution should also have an impact on a forthcoming decision by the European Court in the case of Koch vs Germany, concerning a ban on assisted suicide in Germany.