Danish doctor assisted suicide conviction upheld

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A Danish physician who was convicted in 2018 of assisting the suicide of two people and assisting in another’s attempted suicide lost his attempt to overturn his conviction at the European Court of Human Rights.

An article by Molly Quell published by the Courthouse News Service on April 12, 2022 stated that the European Court of Human Rights found that Svend Lings’ 2018 conviction for medically assisted suicide didn’t violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Quell reported:

Lings, the former chief physician at Odense University Hospital in southern Denmark, was given a 40-day prison sentence in 2018, later increased to 60 days, for helping two people die and a third person attempt suicide. The 81-year-old, now-retired physician founded Læger for Aktiv Dødshjælp, or Physicians in Favour of Euthanasia, in 2015, which advocates for legalizing assisted suicide in Denmark.

Following a 2017 radio interview, in which he described how his organization had helped at least 10 people take their own lives, his medical license was revoked and, after further investigation, he was ultimately charged for his involvement in three suicides or attempted suicides. 

Quell explains that Lings appealed to the European Convention on Human Rights after losing at the Denmark Supreme Court.

Lings argued before the court in Denmark, as well as before the ECHR, that he had merely been disseminating information about suicide. After his final appeal failed before the Danish Supreme Court, he complained to the ECHR, arguing that under the right to expression, guaranteed by the convention which created the court in 1959, what he did should not be considered illegal.

The seven-judge panel disagreed, writing that Lings “had not only provided guidance, but had also, by specific acts, procured medications for the persons concerned, in the knowledge that it was intended for their suicide.” It was clear, the court wrote, that he had gone beyond simply providing general information about suicide.

Similar to other euthanasia activists, Ling openly challenged the law. He likely hoped that his actions would result in an acquittal, thus striking down the law. Instead the Denmark and European courts have upheld his conviction. 

Editor’s note. This appears on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.