European Court of Human Rights upholds doctor’s assisted suicide conviction

assisted suicide, euthanasia, euthanized

On April 12, after reviewing the case of a Danish doctor convicted of assisted suicide in 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided to uphold that conviction. Assisted suicide is illegal in Denmark, yet Dr. Sved Lings was found to have directly aided in the deaths of three people. 

During a radio interview in 2017, Lings claimed that his organization, Physicians in Favour of Euthanasia, had helped at least 10 people commit suicide. He had created a website that provided information on assisted suicide, a list of drugs that could be used, and information on how to obtain these drugs. This admittance led to an investigation into his work and ultimately to his conviction. Lings’s medical license was revoked and he was given a sentence of 60 days in prison.

Providing education on assisted suicide is not illegal, and the right to freedom of expression protected his website. In addition, Lings did not directly prescribe or administer the prescriptions that these people used to commit suicide. However, it was found that he spoke directly to three people, giving them specific advice on how to obtain the suicide drugs they were seeking. Two of these individuals were successful in committing suicide, and the third survived the attempt.

Lings’ involvement was determined to be beyond simply expressing his opinions and beliefs. He had directly contributed to these suicide attempts. However, he argued that his freedom of expression was violated and that his acts were not criminal, and he appealed to the Danish Supreme Court several times to overturn this decision. When those appeals were unsuccessful, he turned to the ECHR to review his case.

READ: Woman dies by assisted suicide in ‘crossing over ceremony’ at Canada church

Yet, the ECHR determined that Ling’s activities were not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which created the Court. The judges stated that Lings “had not only provided guidance, but had also, by specific acts, procured medications for the persons concerned, in the knowledge that it was intended for their suicide.”

This decision brought a definitive end to Lings’s continued attempts to get his conviction appealed. Despite evidence that there is growing support for assisted suicide, the European Convention on Human Rights does not state that anyone has a right to choose to die in this way.

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