A woman’s lawsuit aiming to change European law on assisted suicide has been thrown out after revelations that she had secretly committed suicide three years ago, unbeknownst even to her lawyer. “She was dead one year and a half before the judgment of (a lower court),” Gregor Puppinck of the European Centre for Law and Justice said Sept. 30. “From the facts of the case, we find that the applicant’s lawyer did not know those essential aspects of the case.” The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights threw out the case on Sept. 30. Knowledge of the patient’s suicide “might have had a decisive influence on its judgment” in the case, the court said. Alda Gross, a Swiss citizen, filed suit against the Swiss government in 2009 after she failed to secure a doctor’s prescription for drugs to commit suicide. Switzerland is one of several European countries that permits assisted suicide by lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, but its laws require a doctor’s examination and prescription for patients seeking the drug. The Swiss courts had held that the restrictions on the drug are in place “to prevent abuse.” The court had ruled that Gross “does not suffer from a fatal disease,” and thus was not eligible for assisted suicide. Gross’ appeal to the European Court of Human Rights resulted in a May 2014 decision, by a vote of 4-3, which held that the ban violates patients’ right to privacy and family life found within the European Convention on Human Rights. But due to revelations of Gross’ suicide, that decision has now been thrown out. It was revealed that she committed suicide in November 2011 using a lethal drug obtained through a prescription. Gross’ lawyer had reported that he communicated with Gross through her reputed “confidant,” a volunteer for the pro-assisted suicide group EXIT. “The applicant herself asked specifically her confidant not to inform her lawyer about the prescription and her subsequent death, as she strongly wanted her case to ‘open the way for other persons in her situation’,” Puppinck said. The court found that Gross “took all the necessary safeguards to hide her death, as she wanted to prevent any interruption of the procedure before the court,” he added. The European human rights court’s grand chamber concluded that Gross deliberately misled her lawyer and the court. Paul Coleman of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom said the circumstances surrounding the ruling were “extraordinary. He stressed that the panel ruling against the Swiss law was “a bad decision” because “the government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death.” “The lawsuit’s claim that a person should be able to do whatever he or she pleases does not override national laws rightfully designed to protect the weak and vulnerable,” Coleman said. Puppinck said the dismissal of the case “sent a clear and strong message” against efforts to “instrumentalize the court.” Alliance Defending Freedom and the European Centre for Law and Justice had been authorized to intervene in the case as third parties. The Alliance Defending Freedom is involved in a legal challenge to Belgium’s laws that allow doctor-assisted suicide. That legal challenge comes from a man whose mother committed assisted suicide even though she was not terminally ill and did not notify her family. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously rejected a legal case which contended that Switzerland is obligated to assist individuals to commit suicide.
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