European human rights body speaks against euthanasia

Europe's top human rights body on Wednesday spoke against the practice of helping terminally ill patients to die, and rejected euthanasia as a legitimate means to end life.

The Council of Europe rejected a draft resolution saying patients should have a legal right to decide in advance if they want medical treatment to be limited or stopped if they become terminally ill and unable to express their will.

The resolution, overwhelmingly rejected by the Council's parliamentary assembly, also had called on European countries to define the procedures for discontinuing treatment that offers only a slight prolongation of life without any hope of survival and which would inflict unnecessary suffering on the patient.

"It's a victory of the forces of life," said Kevin McNamara of the council's legal affairs and human rights committee. "The overwhelming majority of deputies were concerned that euthanasia would become an issue (as divisive) as abortion. Too many vulnerable people would be at risk."

The ethics of euthanasia have become a hot topic in Europe following the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged American woman who died March 31 in Florida after her feeding tube was removed by court order, ending a bitter legal battle between her husband and her parents.

The Netherlands became the first European country to legalize euthanasia in 2002, permitting it in the case of terminally ill patients who have no hope of recovery, suffer unbearable pain and ask to die.

Belgium has also legalized euthanasia under strict conditions, while France has passed a right-to-do law that empowers the terminally ill to refuse life-extending treatments but does not legalize euthanasia.

Switzerland allows passive assistance to terminally ill people who have expressed a wish to die, and the practice is common but unstated in some other countries.

"Scientific studies prove euthanasia is practice in many ... countries. There is a big gap between criminal law and social reality," said Council of Europe deputy Dick Dees.

JAN SLIVA, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged American woman, died March 31 in Florida

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