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Weeklies on the right to die

December 4th, 2023

Commentators on both Left and Right support the struggle a terminally ill patient is waging in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to die in dignity.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights heard the case of lawyer Dániel Karsai,  who suffers from ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that has already severely impaired his muscles and speech. He sued the Hungarian state because it refuses to authorise euthanasia for terminally ill patients at a stage where they must face hopeless suffering (see BudaPost, November 30).

In Jelen, Henriett Biczó reports that Dr Karsai has been joined in his court case by two more ALS patients who told her that they are not just fighting for their own right to die in dignity but for all those who face or will face similar conditions in the future. In fact, she remarks, even if the court rules in their favour, which cannot be expected sooner than the end of January 2024, it may be too late for them by the time Parliament actually passes legislation authorising euthanasia. They may well die before such a complicated matter can be settled by legislators. Dr Karsai himself told the reporter that he and the other two ALS patients suing the Hungarian state fear they will eventually be the martyrs of the fight for the right to die in dignity, rather than its beneficiaries.

In Magyar Hang, András Lányi laments that if the three ALS patients win their case in court, the government will find itself opposed to yet another all-European institution so that the whole controversy will appear in the context of the so-called ‘sovereignty struggle’ waged by the government against ‘the European elites’. He fears therefore that no decent dialogue will be possible on this thorny issue. He also believes the government may find itself in conflict with most of the citizenry, as polls have shown that the majority of Hungarians agree with the idea of a ‘good death’. He also believes that precise legislation could exclude the possibility of a new euthanasia law being abused for the purpose of suicide.

In a Demokrataeditorial exceptionally critical of the government’s stance, András Bencsik fully understands Dr Karsai’s claim, arguing that the terminal stage of ALS is incredibly humiliating for the patient. He concedes that the issue is extremely difficult and compares it to the moral dilemma raised by the problem of abortion. Although morally speaking, he explains, it would be inadmissible to authorise abortion, governments nevertheless recoil from banning it because they don’t want to clash with a majority opinion among voters. Poland’s example, where the Conservative government was voted out of office earlier this autumn, he writes, shows that by banning abortion, governments may run into fierce opposition. Therefore, most governments try to find a compromise halfway between a ban and the freedom of abortion. But since they are able to do so in that case, he asks, why can’t they find a compromise for those who are already condemned to death by the ALS disease? Do they stand no chance simply because there are relatively few such patients, and they cannot decide the outcome of an election, unlike those who support abortion?  He concludes by defining that refusal a ‘hypocritical, two-faced attitude’.


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