An elderly Swiss woman who would rather end her life now than decline further in health found sympathy Tuesday from the European Court of Human Rights, which called on the Swiss to clarify their laws on so-called passive assisted suicide. The Strasbourg, France-based court said Switzerland must specify whether its laws are meant to include people not suffering from terminal illnesses and, if so, spell out the conditions under which they can end their lives.
Alda Gross, a woman in her early 80s who lives outside Zurich, appealed to the court after she couldn’t find a doctor to prescribe her a lethal dose of drugs and couldn’t force Swiss authorities to order a doctor to grant her wish. An assisted suicide group also had advised her it would be difficult to find a doctor to give her a prescription because her illness wasn’t terminal.
While she didn’t suffer from any clinical illness, the court said, Gross argued that she shouldn’t have to keep suffering from the decline of her physical and mental facilities. According to court documents, she attempted suicide and was hospitalized in 2005. Then she tried to get a lethal prescription of sodium pentobarbital through the assisted suicide group and by turning to the Zurich health board.
The vagueness of Swiss laws “concerning a particularly important aspect of her life was likely to have caused Ms. Gross a considerable degree of anguish,” the court found. And while Swiss laws allow for the possibility of obtaining a lethal dose of a drug on medical prescription, it added, those laws “did not provide sufficient guidelines ensuring clarity as to the extent of this right.”