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The right to life in Europe: Its beginning and end
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work.
2010 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) was adopted in 1950. One of the most important rights established therein is the right to life, which can be found in article 2.

The purpose of this thesis is to examine how far the scope of this right reaches concerning the beginning and the end of life. This is mainly done by examining the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) which is set to monitor the observance of the rights. To make this thesis manageable, the three areas of abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty have been chosen as the starting-point of the examination.

The position of the three areas among the member states varies. Abortion and euthanasia have been regarded by the Court as sensitive areas in which the states have a wide margin of appreciation to decide on their own. This is much due to the lack of consensus within the states as to how they should be regulated.

Whether the unborn foetus is protected by the Convention and in such case to what extent is still in dispute. This is also the case concerning when life begins. The Court has stated that any right the foetus may possess is limited by the rights of the mother. They have also said that they do not want to impose a certain view on the member states.

The Commission has stated that if the foetus would have an absolute right to life under the Convention, then it would lead to serious implications for the mother, as she would not be able to have an abortion in any circumstance. Also, in Vo v. France one of the dissenting judges stated that the foetus’ right to life have to be narrower in scope than the right of the born.

In the case Pretty v. the United Kingdom the Court unanimously ruled that article 2 does not include a right to die. However some member states, like the Netherlands, have made euthanasia legal without being found to violate its obligations under the Convention. Consequently, it does not seem to be against the Convention for states to make their own legislation allowing for euthanasia to be practiced.

One important aspect to this debate is whether one considers life to be inalienable or not. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has said that even though the rights of the terminally ill should be respected, it does not mean that one has the right to die at the hands of someone else. The Court has also said that in this area, it is important to protect those vulnerable from being used, and therefore states have the right to legislate against euthanasia.

The situation is different when it comes to the death penalty. Two additional protocols have been adopted restricting or completely abolishing the penalty since the adoption of the Convention. In 1950 there was no possibility to exclude the right to use the death penalty from the Convention since many European states still retained it in their domestic laws. However, the development since has moved towards a complete abolition. This is for instance evident since aspiring members of the Council of Europe have to be willing to abolish the penalty to be accepted.

The Court has dealt with the death penalty in several cases. In Soering v. the United Kingdom they said that extraditing someone to a state where he or she risks being executed not automatically means a violation of the right to life or the prohibition of torture. In Öcalan v. Turkey they established that the imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial was a violation of article 3. Also, they considered the death penalty to now be regarded as an unacceptable punishment in peace time. Abolition of the death penalty is something the Council of Europe has worked for in decades to realise.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. , p. 52
Keywords [en]
human rights, the right to life, the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR
National Category
Law and Society
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-10917ISRN: ORU-JPS/RÄT-AG-2010/0030--SEOAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-10917DiVA, id: diva2:322118
Presentation
2010-06-02, P137, Fakultetsgatan 1, Örebro, 08:00 (Swedish)
Uppsok
Social and Behavioural Science, Law
Supervisors
Examiners
Available from: 2010-06-23 Created: 2010-06-03 Last updated: 2017-10-18Bibliographically approved

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