Judgment concerning Hungary

Human Rights building

In the case of Daniel Karsai v. Hungary the Court held that there had been no violation of the right to respect for private and family life and no violation of the right to prohibition of discrimination.

The case concerned the question of the asserted right to self-determined death of the applicant, who is a Hungarian national and has advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a type of motor neurone disease with no known cure. He would like to be able to decide when and how to die before his illness reaches a stage that he finds intolerable. He would need assistance, but anyone assisting him would risk prosecution, even if he died in a country which allowed physician-assisted dying. He complained of not being able to end his life with the help of others and of discrimination compared to terminally ill patients on life-sustaining treatment who are able to ask for their treatment to be withdrawn.

The Court observed that there were potentially broad social implications and risks of error and abuse involved in the provision of physician-assisted dying. Despite a growing trend towards its legalisation, the majority of the member States of the Council of Europe continue to prohibit both medically assisted suicide and euthanasia. The State thus had wide discretion in this respect, and the Court found that the Hungarian authorities had not failed to strike a fair balance between the competing interests at stake and had not overstepped that discretion.

As regards the alleged discrimination, the Court found that the refusal or withdrawal of treatment in end-of-life situations was intrinsically linked to the right to free and informed consent, rather than to a right to be helped to die, and was widely recognised and endorsed by the medical profession, and also laid down in the Council of Europe’s Oviedo Convention. Furthermore, refusal or withdrawal of life-support was allowed by the majority of the member States. The Court therefore considered that the alleged difference in treatment of the two categories was objectively and reasonably justified.

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