Assisted suicide ban challenged at Europe’s top human rights court

  • Dániel Karsai, Hungarian national suffering from progressive neurodegenerative condition, seeks legalization of assisted suicide in Hungary before European Court of Human Rights in oral hearing today. 
  • ADF International intervenes, arguing that Hungary is obligated to protect the right to life; there is no “right to die”. 

Strasbourg (November 28,  2023) – Hungarian national Dániel Karsai, diagnosed with a progressive neurodegenerative condition, brought his challenge to Hungary’s ban on assisted suicide before the European Court of Human Rights today. Assisted suicide is illegal under Hungarian law, as in the overwhelming majority of countries.

ADF International intervened in the case of Karsai v. Hungary, arguing that Hungary’s legal prohibition on assisted suicide must be upheld in line with the obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 2) to protect the right to life. 

In its submission to the Court, the legal advocacy organization highlights the inevitable abuses that ensue when legal protections for the right to life are eradicated. The brief explains: “Removing such provisions from law creates a dangerous scenario where pressure is placed on vulnerable people to end their lives in fear (whether or not justified) of being a burden upon relatives, carers, or a state that is short of resources.” 

“We cannot abandon our essential human rights protections.” 

“While Mr. Karsai’s condition demands our greatest compassion, we cannot abandon our essential human rights protections. Hungary is bound under European and international human rights law to safeguard human life,” stated Jean-Paul Van De Walle, Legal Counsel for ADF International, present at the Court’s oral hearing in Strasbourg on 28 November.

“The right to life is inviolable, underlying all other human rights. Conversely, there is no so-called ‘right to die’. Worldwide, only a tiny minority of countries allow assisted suicide. Wherever the practice is allowed, legal ‘safeguards’ are insufficient to prevent abuses, proving most harmful to vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, the disabled, and those suffering from mental illness or depression. And assisted suicide inevitably results in human rights-violating coercion on medical professionals and others to end human life. Suicide is something society rightly considers a tragedy to be prevented, and the same stance must apply with regard to assisted suicide. Killing someone can never be the solution,” continued Van De Walle. 

The Court, which granted this case priority, is expected to deliver its decision on an expedited timeline. 

Seeking a “right” to die 

Karsai, 46, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), wishes to resort to assisted suicide before his physical condition further deteriorates. It is a criminal offence in Hungary to help somebody end their life, whether the act is committed in Hungary or abroad. Mr. Karsai maintains that even if he were to die by assisted suicide outside of Hungary, the Hungarian Criminal Code would apply to anyone assisting him.  

Safeguarding the right to life 

ADF International, along with UK-based NGO Care Not Killing, has highlighted to the Court that there is no so-called “right to die” but, in fact, a clear right to life. This position, in line with both European and international human rights law, underscores the dangers that would ensue from forcing Hungary to allow assisted suicide, highlighting that the intentional taking of human life can never be safe. 

The European Court of Human Rights also recognised these dangers in the October 2022 ruling in Mortier v. Belgium, in which the applicant was represented by ADF International. In this case, the Court found that Belgium violated the right to life in the circumstances surrounding the euthanasia of Godelieva De Troyer.

The Court condemned Belgium because of “the lack of independence of the Control Commission,” which for over twenty years has presided over the practice of euthanasia in Belgium and supposedly acts as the ‘guardian’ of the legal safeguards.  

As stated in the Karsai submission: “Despite alleged ‘safeguards’ and a ‘strict’ legal framework, young adults are euthanised because of ‘incurable depression,’ elderly people because of symptoms related to ageing, prisoners because of lack of access to appropriate mental health care or because of psychological suffering, twins because of becoming blind – to mention only some examples, among many others”. 

Legalisation leads to abuses 

Of the 46 Member States of the Council of Europe, only six have legalized assisted suicide. The practice has been rejected by legislators in the vast majority of countries.  

The World Medical Association consistently and categorically has rejected the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide as unethical. Countries that have legalized euthanasia now allow the intentional killing of children, those who are physically healthy, and those who have not given their consent.    

In Resolution 1859 (2012), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated unequivocally 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.”1 

“Once we as a society open the doors to intentional killing, there is no logical stopping point. How do we distinguish between the person we talk down from the bridge and the person we let die at the hands of their doctor? The state has an obligation to protect the fundamental value of human life, and we cannot set in motion legal changes that undermine this obligation to the detriment of all of society,” noted Van De Walle.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Alliance Defending Freedom International.