Euthanasia ‘Must Always Be Prohibited,’ European Body Says

Patrick Goodenough | January 27, 2012 | 5:20am EST
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The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), representing 47 member states of the Council of Europe, meets four times a year in Strasbourg. (Photo: Council of Europe)

( – Anti-euthanasia activists are praising the passage by a leading European governmental body of a resolution stating clearly that euthanasia “must always be prohibited.”

Although not legally-binding on the 47 countries belonging to the body, the measure may have an impact on legislative and judicial processes, they say.

“This resolution is a major victory for the protection of life and dignity,” said Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), a Strasbourg, France-based organization affiliated with the American Center for Law and Justice. “This is the first time, in the past decades, that euthanasia is so clearly rejected by a European political institution.”

Puppinck was responding to a vote by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), meeting in Strasbourg, approving a measure that included the line, “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 declaration would appear to oppose actions taken against the incompetent to end their lives, such as be lethal injection, intentional overdose of morphine, or removal of feeding tubes,” anti-euthanasia campaigner and author Wesley J. Smith said in response to queries.

“Any public statement by officialdom that supports the sanctity/equality of life ethic is to be applauded.”

The resolution, which passed by a 34-16 vote, with six abstentions, does not focus directly on the issue of euthanasia or assisted suicide, but rather on issues relating to practice of “living wills” or “advanced directives.”

These are documents drawn up by patients to spell out, in advance, their wishes regarding medical intervention, should they later not be too ill or incapacitated to make those wishes known.

The ECLJ says the documents are open to abuse, and may become a “backdoor” for introducing euthanasia or assisted suicide into legislation.

The PACE has drawn up a list of principles to govern the practice, and the resolution calls on member states to review their relevant legislation on the matter with a view to improving it

“But because of the growing concerns around euthanasia, the Assembly estimated that it is necessary to recall explicitly the basic principle that ‘intentional killing must always be prohibited,’ ” Puppinck said.

‘If in doubt, decision must be pro-life’

He also welcomed the inclusion in the resolution of a clause that calls on national parliaments, when legislating in this area, to respect a principle stating, “surrogate decisions that rely on general value judgments present in society should not be admissible and, in case of doubt, the decision must always be pro-life and the prolongation of life.”

“This resolution is a clear indication that the growing majority of Europeans is opposed to euthanasia,” Puppinck said. “The many abuses occurring in the countries allowing euthanasia are alarming and constitute violations of true human rights.”

He said the handful of European countries that allow euthanasia – the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland – should now review their legislation, in line with the principles laid out in the PACE resolution.

The PACE is a body of European lawmakers representing the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, a grouping formed in the aftermath of World War II and responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights.

Not to be confused with the smaller European Union, the Council of Europe includes former Soviet constituent states including Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The 47 member states’ national parliaments appoint 318 representatives to serve on the PACE, which meets four times a year in Strasbourg, the same location as the entirely separate European Parliament, an E.U. body.

Puppinck voiced the hope that the PACE resolution would have a direct impact on an important upcoming European Court of Human Rights ruling in a case relating to the ban of assisted suicide in Germany.

A German named Ulrich Koch filed a lawsuit with the court, arguing that his country’s law violates the constitutional right to privacy and a dignified death. He brought the case after his wife, paralyzed after a fall, was refused access to lethal drugs to kill herself. She ultimately committed suicide in 2005 at a controversial Swiss euthanasia clinic, Dignitas.

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