Yesterday, on January 25, 2012, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a Resolution stating that “euthanasia must always be prohibited.” This articulates a strong principle for life and against euthanasia, given that, for the first time, euthanasia has been so clearly rejected by a European political institution.
This is a third major victory for life and dignity of the weakest, after the 2010 resolution that strengthened freedom of conscience for doctors and medical staff and after the European Court of Human Rights asserted last year that there is no right to euthanasia or assisted suicide under the European Convention.
The resolution passed yesterday states in §5: “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.”
The resolution (n°1859/2012) is entitled “Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients” and aims for a clarification of the principles that should govern the practice of “living wills” or “advance directives” in Europe. Patients should be permitted and encouraged to express in advance their wishes with regards to medical intervention and treatment in case a situation occurs in which they are no longer capable of doing so.
Because divergent regulation in European countries and the abuse of so-called “living wills” or “advance directives” can provide a gateway for euthanasia or assisted suicide, there are growing concerns about the effective protection of human dignity at the end of life. Therefore, the Parliamentary Assembly judged it necessary yesterday to present clear guidelines to close the door to euthanasia, abuse of “living wills” and surrogate decisions by recalling principles elaborated in previous documents, such as the Oviedo-Convention on human rights and biomedicine. First and foremost, the Assembly sets the principle that “intentional killing must always be prohibited”. Secondly, an important amendment, introduced by Italian MP Luca Volontè, was adopted. Paragraph 7.8. states that “surrogate decisions that rely on general value judgements present in society should not be admissible and, in case of doubt, the decision must always be pro-life and the prolongation of life”.
With the adoption of this resolution, the Council of Europe has now placed the ball in the court of countries that permit euthanasia such as the Netherlands and Belgium. Even if the resolution is not legally binding, these member states are expected to be aware of the standard set forth by the Parliamentary Assembly and to review their own legislation.
The position voiced in the resolution will certainly have positive impact on the pending case Koch v. Germany in the European Court of Human Rights on assisted suicide in Germany. For your further information on the case, please see here the detailed analysis by the European Centre for Law and Justice in Strasbourg.
As Mr. Luca Volonte', chairman of EPP Group in the PACE, underlines, “last year we have obtained a great victory reaffirming the right of medical practitioners to conscientious objection; today we have also fought a good battle and we have won, thanks God, against a real ideological tyranny of culture of death (...); now euthanasia is completely banned from PACE”.