German Court Ruling on Assisted Suicide Request Panned

International   Steven Ertelt   Jul 23, 2012   |   5:37PM    Berlin, Germany

A leading pro-life group is not happy with the Thursday decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Koch v. Germany.

The European Court of Human Rights allowed a German pro-life group represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to intervene to defend life in a lawsuit filed against the German government. A man sued Germany after a state agency would not give his disabled wife drugs to commit suicide.

ADF says the court issued a ruling that it strongly opposes.

“The state reserves the right to protect life. It should not be compelled to aid in destroying it,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska.

“This decision undermines that sovereign right even though the opinion stopped short of declaring a right to assisted suicide. Saying that Germany violated the privacy rights of a man because it refused his demand for lethal drugs so that his wife could kill herself is an unprecedented procedural nightmare with no basis in the European Convention on Human Rights,” Kiska continued. “The court found procedural ‘penumbras’ emanating from non-existent rights in Article 8 of the Convention, and that opens the door to confusion and abuse.”

He said, “The question is not whether pain and suffering occurs. The question is whether the government should be ending the life of patients under the pretext of stopping pain and suffering. The answer is unequivocally ‘no,’ and that is supported by existing case law, as well protections established in the European Convention on Human Rights.”

After suffering from a fall in 2002 that left her permanently disabled, Ulrich Koch’s wife wanted to end her life with the help of the Swiss assisted-suicide organization Dignitas. In November 2004, she requested the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices to grant her authorization to obtain a lethal dose of a drug that would enable her to commit suicide from home.

The institute denied the request the following month, citing case law precedent enforcing the German Narcotics Act and concluding that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights could not be interpreted as imposing an obligation on Germany to facilitate the act of suicide with narcotic drugs. Koch and his wife appealed the institute’s decision in January 2005, and the appeal was denied two months later.

In March 2005, Koch’s wife committed suicide in Switzerland with the assistance of Dignitas. Her husband then lodged a long series of complaints and appeals against the institute, alleging its “unlawful” denial of drugs, but each of them were denied. After the Federal Constitutional Court denied Koch’s appeal in November 2008, he filed the lawsuit Koch v. Germany with the European Court of Human Rights.

“An ECHR decision overturning all of these well-grounded rulings against assisted suicide could have disastrous consequences for member states and set a dangerous example for other nations, including the U.S.,” said Kiska. “So-called ‘mercy killing’ is a slippery slope that has no end point.  How much pain is sufficient for the government to step in and eliminate the patient?”

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ADF attorneys represent Aktion Lebensrecht für Alle (ALfA), one of the largest pro-life organizations in Germany with nearly 11,000 members.