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EU court finds Swiss assisted-suicide laws vague

GENEVA — 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.

Alda Gross, a woman in her early 80s who lives outside Zurich, appealed to the Strasbourg, France-based 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.While she didn’t suffer from any clinical illness, Gross argued that she shouldn’t have to keep suffering from the decline of her physical and mental facilities.

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.”

Passive assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1942; the law allows someone to give another person the means to kill themselves, provided the helper doesn’t personally benefit from the death or aid in the actual act of death. Most people who avail themselves of the law are terminally ill, but some have cited depression or blindness for wanting to end their lives and some are young and physically healthy except for a permanent disability or severe, debilitating mental disorder.

Other countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and U.S. states such as Oregon and Washington, have passed laws allowing the incurably sick to consult a doctor who can speed their death, under special and tightly regulated circumstances.

In 2011, the Swiss government dropped plans to impose stricter rules regarding “passive assisted suicide.” The government said the current rules strike a balance between protecting vulnerable individuals and safeguarding their right to self-determination, and new laws could infringe on people’s personal freedoms.

Gross, who lives in a village on the shore of Lake Greifen in northern Switzerland, was turned down by a Zurich health board when she tried to force her doctors to prescribe her a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the health board’s decision.

Gross did not submit a claim for damages to the European court, which did not take a stand on whether she should have been given the lethal dose.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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