STRASBOURG, January 24, 2011 ( – In a high-profile assisted suicide case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that while there is a “human right” to suicide, the state has no obligation to provide citizens with the means to commit suicide.

In its January 20 ruling, the court cited a previous ruling in the case of Pretty v. United-Kingdom, saying “that the right of an individual to decide how and when to end his life, provided that said individual was in a position to make up his own mind in that respect and to take the appropriate action, [is] one aspect of the right to respect for private life” under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Pretty v. United-Kingdom (2002), the court had ruled that the decision of the applicant to avoid what she considered an undignified and distressing end to her life was part of the “private sphere” covered by Article 8.

In the recent case, Haas vs. Switzerland, the complainant, who is suffering from a serious psychic disorder, wanted to commit suicide with a lethal substance available only on medical prescription, according to Swiss law. Because his mental problems were not a terminal illness, they did not qualify him for state assisted suicide.

The complainant said he could not obtain the lethal drugs without a prescription, and said that this constituted a violation of his right to privacy under Article 8 of the Convention.

The court found, however, that the European Convention on Human Rights has to be taken in its entirety, including the right to life guaranteed in Article 2.

“The Court notes that the vast majority of member States place more weight on the protection of an individual’s life than on the right to end one’s life and concludes that the States have a broad margin of appreciation in that respect,” explained Grégor Puppinck, the director of the European Center for Law and Justice in a press release about the decision.

The court therefore concluded that states have no direct responsibility to help their citizens commit suicide by providing lethal drugs.

The court also ruled that respect for the right to life compels the state to prevent a person from committing suicide if such a decision is not taken freely and with full knowledge.