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Preserving Life and Facilitating Death: What Role for Government after Haas v Switzerland?

Harmon, SHE   Sethi, N.

European Journal of Health Law   18 (4) 355-364

September 2011   (Published online January 2011)

Because we live in a ‘rights society’, we seek to vindicate and protect through our legal and political institutions, those rights we view as fundamental to human flourishing and the maintenance of a just and civil society. In Europe, those fundamental rights are enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),1 the European Charter of Rights (Charter),2 and a plethora of domestic constitutions and laws. However, changing social mores and limitations in our ability to relieve (or cope with) certain health conditions have resulted in unanticipated demands being placed on those rights. For example, when confronted with diseases or injuries that are incurable, untreatable, or poorly managed, patients may seek release from their suffering. They may seek death, which is not normally associated with flourishing, and which is largely antithetical to rights and health regimes aimed squarely at promoting and/or preserving, not extinguishing, human life and human flourishing. There is an inherent and systemic resistance to choosing death, with the result that barriers exist to achieving death, and to receiving the support one might wish to receive (or indeed might need to receive) in the pursuit of a ‘good death’.