A Small Improvement to Hungary's Euthanasia Law

Hungary's Constitutional Court has passed a decision on euthanasia and living wills that will make them easier to implement or withdraw, but the ruling falls short of ensuring that the fatally ill can choose a truly dignified and self-determined end.

The Constitutional Court of Hungary has issued its ruling on patients' end-of-life rights, updating the country's euthanasia laws and provisions for living wills. The case stems from a complaint submitted by a doctor who, based on his own experience, believes that the healthcare system should not interfere with a patient's right to die peacefully and on his or her own terms. The doctor's bitter experiences with healthcare authorities on the country's euthanasia and end-of-life laws led him to retire, at which point he submitted his legal complaint.

Active euthanasia means that the physician actively cooperates in the patient's death, while passive euthanasia refers to ceasing the provision of any treatments that keep the person alive or extend his or her life. Currently, active euthanasia is not legal in Hungary, though passive euthanasia - in compliance with strict formal requirements - is available. Relevant regulations, including provisions concerning the refusal of treatment, are specified in health care legislation. The legal framework already in place and the strict requirements of passive euthanasia remain, though regulations on living wills have been updated by the Court. Giving a living will means that one decides to refuse treatment should he or she lose their decision-making abilities. Living wills can specify treatments that the patient wishes to prohibit, which can include prohibiting any intervention in general. As a result of the Court's ruling, the declaration concerning the living will does not have to be renewed every two years but can be withdrawn at any time, without respecting any formal requirements. Furthermore, no psychiatric expert opinion will be needed in order to confirm that the concerned person has made the decision in his or her full legal capacity.

In 2010, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union turned to the Ombudsman to request the examination of the practice concerning end-of-life decisions, a practice which seemed to have failed according to our experiences. The Ombudsman has yet to issue any resolution in response to our request.

We hope that the recent changes will contribute to the availability of this so far virtually unknown opportunity, so that in the case of becoming incapacitated, a person will be treated or not treated based on his or her earlier decisions.

The full text of the Constitutional Court's ruling can be read here.

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