01-01-2007 - Traces, n. 1

The current situation
in the European Union

by Mario Mauro*

From a reply to a question in the European Parliament in 2004 by the then commissioner Byrne, we can conclude that officially the European Institutions consider euthanasia a matter of medical health, for which the competence is of each individual State. In actual fact, the reality is far more complex, bristling with insidious attitudes, never binding, but all the same politically influential.

1. The European Parliament
The European Parliament is the communitarian institution in which the theme has been debated more often. Léon Schwartzenberg presented a working paper in July 1990 and a plan for a proposal in February 1991, on the care of the terminal ill, in which active euthanasia and assisted suicide were seen as being acceptable and in keeping with the dignity and autonomy of the patients. The two documents were never taken into consideration thanks to resistance by individual states. In 1995, in approving the Resolution on respect for human rights in the EU, the Parliament affirmed that the right to life implies the right to healthcare and requires a ban on euthanasia. Strongly rejecting the thesis whereby disabled persons, patients in coma, and newborn babies with handicaps would not have an unlimited right to life, the assembly in Strasbourg repeated that the right to life must be recognized for all, independently of their state of health, sex, race or age. The traditional “The Annual report on Human Rights of the European Union” is a clear indicator of the battle raging between parliamentary groups on the question of euthanasia. Though in 2003 the Parliament adopted a report in which it asked for a European medical and ethical reflection on the question of euthanasia, the Plenary Session rejected the 2003 Report in which member states were asked to improve norms on euthanasia and abortion, asking them for wider legislation.

2. The Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union expressed itself with a recommendation that excludes active euthanasia. The European governments, meeting in the Council, affirmed that “The doctor must make every effort to relieve suffering and has no right, even in what seem hopeless cases to hasten intentionally the natural process of death.”

3. The European Commission
Apart from the reply given by the commissioner Byrne, the commission pronounced in 2005 through the report of Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights. This organization depends on the General Directorate for Freedom, Security and Justice (the director is the Englishman Jonathan Faull, previously spokesman for the President of the Commission, Romano Prodi). The 2005 report condemned a draft treaty between Slovakia and the Holy See which guarantees conscientious objection by doctors and paramedics who do not intend to practice abortion. The motivation: conscientious objection cannot infringe the rights of women to healthcare. Moreover what is valid for abortion–according to the opinion of the UE experts–should be valid also for euthanasia.
Vice-president of the European Parliament