European Court to Decide if German Woman Has Assisted Suicide Right

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 26, 2010   |   5:18PM   |   Strasbourg, France

The European Court of Human Rights will be deciding a case involving a German woman who was denied the right to obtain lethal drugs for the purpose of taking her life in an assisted suicide.

The court began the case of Ulrich Koch vs. Germany on Tuesday and it concerns the German authorities’ refusal to grant Koch’s late wife the lethal dose of drugs she needed to kill herself.

His wife fell in front of their house in 2002 and was ultimately paralyzed form the next down — requiring artificial ventilation and constant care from nursing staff.

The man told German media that his wife “suffered from terrible spasms” and even had trouble “sitting in a wheelchair.”

Reports indicate the woman made a request to Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices to obtain the lethal drugs, but the agency said granting the request would violate the nation’s German Narcotics Act which prohibits assisted suicide.

Koch filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights saying the law violates the so-called right to privacy and to a dignified death, as stipulated by Article 8 of the German constitution.

Wesley J. Smith, an American bioethics attorney, said the case is important because it could have ramifications across Europe, where nations like Switzerland, Holland and Luxembourg already allow assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“Koch died at a Swiss suicide clinic,” he noted. “Koch wasn’t terminally ill, which of course, isn’t what the issue is about at all–except in the USA for political expediency.”

“But also note: If Koch had a fundamental privacy right to lethal drugs for use in suicide that was violated by German law, so does everyone–and for any reason.,” he explained. “Because if suicide is a fundamental human right, how can it be limited to the dying, the sick, or people with disabilities?  Indeed, if we have a “right to die,” who is to gainsay why we decide to exercise that right?”

He concluded: “So, be very clear what a ruling in favor of a right to be made dead would mean.  And think about the abandoning message it would send to those who have a very difficult time hanging on, and the destructive forces it would unleash against the most weak and vulnerable among us.”