An analysis of international human rights law relevant to the practice of voluntary euthanasia does not lead to ‘the’ answer. Rather it reveals a balancing of rights, the appropriate balance of which may be subject to competing views.
The right to life does not (as a corollary) include a right to choose to die. But nor does it require a State to ensure that a person’s life is protected when this is against the express wishes of that person. In the case of a request for voluntary euthanasia, the State’s obligation to protect life must be balanced against the right to personal autonomy which is contained within the right to privacy.
Laws prohibiting access to voluntary euthanasia may interfere with the right to respect for private life as guaranteed under article 17 of the ICCPR, and as such need to be able to be justified as a legitimate limitation of that right.
In relation to access to passive euthanasia, it is important to note that to subject a person to medical treatment against their will or without their consent may violate their physical integrity and breach their rights under article 17 (and possibly article 7) of the ICCPR.
Further, the Disability Convention makes clear that people with disability are entitled to the same respect for their rights to life, health, physical integrity and personal autonomy as people without disability.
If a State does choose to legalise voluntary euthanasia, article 6 of the ICCPR requires that the legislation includes strict and effective safeguards against abuse. In order to be compatible with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, such laws may need to include an appropriately worded ‘conscientious objection’ provision.
The analysis suggests that there is no one identifiable right that necessarily requires the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia, nor is there one identifiable right that prevents its legalisation, provided stringent safeguards are instituted. It would seem from a human rights perspective, the option exists to support legalisation of voluntary euthanasia practices provided that sufficient safeguards are put in place to prevent ‘arbitrary’ (including discriminatory) deprivations of life.