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Gross v. Switzerland

Description:  A woman who did not suffer from any fatal disease sued Switzerland after Swiss authorities would not provide her with drugs to commit suicide.

Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Paul Coleman

STRASBOURG, France — The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights Tuesday threw out a case filed against the Swiss government for its refusal to provide suicide drugs to a woman who did not suffer from any fatal disease. The Grand Chamber nullified an ECHR panel’s decision against Switzerland upon learning that Alda Gross, the woman at the center of the lawsuit, actually committed suicide in November 2011. In an apparent attempt to keep the lawsuit going after her death, no one notified the court or others involved in the lawsuit of her death or of the fact that she committed suicide using the very poison that she was attempting to secure through her lawsuit.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a brief with the Grand Chamber last year. The Grand Chamber had agreed to review the case after an ECHR panel ruled 4-3 that Switzerland’s law banning lethal poison in such circumstances violates Article 8 (regarding the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights because the court considered the law vague. That ruling is now null and void.

“Because the government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death, we are pleased to see this bad decision thrown out despite the extraordinary circumstances,” said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Coleman. “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.”

The judgment issued Tuesday states that the application to have the Grand Chamber review the case is inadmissible because “the applicant intended to mislead the Court on a matter concerning the very core of her complaint under the Convention.” As the judgment notes, “It is also conceivable that had these facts been known to the Chamber they might have had a decisive influence on its judgment of 14 May 2013 concluding that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention….”

ADF intervened in the case, Gross v. Switzerland, in March 2012. Although Switzerland is one of only four European countries to allow doctor-prescribed death in certain circumstances, individuals can obtain sodium pentobarbital, a drug that can be used to commit suicide, only after a medical examination and prescription by a doctor. That protocol will remain intact in light of the Grand Chamber’s decision to dismiss the case.

Gross, a Swiss citizen, failed to find a doctor prepared to prescribe the lethal substance to her, so she appealed to the national courts in 2009. The Swiss courts held that the restrictive conditions placed on the drug are in place to prevent abuse and cannot be overridden in the absence of a medical prescription. They also noted that Gross “does not suffer from a fatal disease.”

The case attempted to create a “right” to assisted suicide under the European Convention. In a very similar case, Haas v. Switzerland, the ECHR in 2011 unanimously rejected the claim that the country had an obligation to assist individuals in committing suicide.

On Sept. 3, ADF attorneys filed an application with the ECHR in Mortier v. Belgium, a legal challenge to Belgium’s laws that allow doctor-prescribed death. In that case, ADF attorneys represent a man whose mother was put to death even though she was not terminally ill, and the man was not notified of his mother’s death until the day after it happened.
  • Pronunciation guide: Gross (GROHS’), Mortier (More-TEE’-ay)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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Previous News Releases

Legal Documents

ECHR Second Section decision: Gross v. Switzerland
ECHR Grand Chamber judgment: Gross v. Switzerland

Related Resources

ABOUT Paul Coleman

Paul Coleman serves as executive director of ADF International, overseeing the legal advocacy of all ADF International offices. Specializing in international human rights and European law, Coleman has been involved in more than 20 cases before the European Court of Human Rights and has authored submissions before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, UN Human Rights Committee, and numerous national courts. Coleman earned his LL.M. and postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the Northumbria Law School, graduating with distinction. He also has a bachelor of laws from Newcastle University and graduated with first-class honours. Coleman is a solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales and is the author of two books and numerous articles.