However, a closer look at the resolution gives a completely different view of events (as does Paul Flynn MP’s blog).
Firstly, the resolution is not binding – the Council of Europe does not have over laws of the member states of the EU.
Secondly the quote from the resolution used in the media coverage – “euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit must always be prohibited” – is taken completely out of context.
Resolution 1859 is actually about Advance Decisions and proxy decision making, not legalised assisted dying or voluntary euthanasia. The whole paragraph the quote is taken from says:
“This resolution is not intended to deal with the issues of euthanasia or assisted suicide. Euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited. This resolution thus limits itself to the question of advance directives, living wills and continuing powers of attorney.”
So what the declaration is actually saying is that decisions should not be made to end the life of a person without capacity, unless that person has previously made this wish clear in an Advance Decision or through a power of attorney.
The purpose of the resolution is actually to promote Advance Decisions and proxy decision making, for example through Lasting Powers of Attorney. The resolution states:
“a capable adult patient must not be manipulated…his or her will, when clearly expressed, must prevail even if it signifies refusal of treatment: no-one can be compelled to undergo a medical treatment against his or her will.”
The resolution also stresses the importance Advance Decisions in ensuring that people’s previously expressed wishes are respected in order to “protect their human rights and dignity”.
For anyone who wants to ensure their wishes for medical treatment are respected should they lose mental capacity, our partner charity Compassion in Dying provides free Advance Decisions and advice on rights at the end of life on 0800 999 2434.
Update: In a statement to Lord Alton, the Goverment has made clear the scope and intended aim of the resolution, Lord McNally affirms that the resolution:
“is limited to the question of advance directives, living wills and continuing powers of attorney. It aims to empower people to record their wishes regarding their medical treatment for a time in the future when they may lack the capacity to consent to or refuse a particular treatment. The relevant domestic law in that area is the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”
This confirms that resolution 1859 was actually about Advance Decisions and proxy decision making, and was never intended to be about Euthanasia or assisted dying.
Assisted suicide should be illegal throughout Europe, human rights body rules – the Telegraph, 28th January 2012
Euthanasia ‘must always be prohibited’, rules Council of Europe – Daily Mail, 27th January 2012
Government Response to Lord Alton Question on Resolution 1859 – 10th February 2012