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Europeans and their rights - The Right to Life in European constitutional and conventional case law

Europeans and their rights - The Right to Life in European constitutional and conventional case law

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Published by Council of Europe
The right to life is the prime individual right in treaty and constitution systems of fundamental rights. The whole approach to protecting this right has changed considerably with scientific and medical advances. Whereas traditionally the concern was to protect life from all threats, today there is the additional very prominent issue of human — scientific and medical — intervention in the life-giving process in such forms as abortion, medically assisted procreation, embryo research, cloning and euthanasia.
This comparative analysis of the case law of Europe's constitutional courts and the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights examines the nature and scope of the right to life in order to determine whether there is a common legal approach to the question in Europe.
The right to life is the prime individual right in treaty and constitution systems of fundamental rights. The whole approach to protecting this right has changed considerably with scientific and medical advances. Whereas traditionally the concern was to protect life from all threats, today there is the additional very prominent issue of human — scientific and medical — intervention in the life-giving process in such forms as abortion, medically assisted procreation, embryo research, cloning and euthanasia.
This comparative analysis of the case law of Europe's constitutional courts and the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights examines the nature and scope of the right to life in order to determine whether there is a common legal approach to the question in Europe.

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Published by: Council of Europe on Oct 26, 2010
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02/23/2014

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The right to life is self-evident. Human rights – the rights of each individual – depend on the existence of the biological process that is life. Human rights per-tain both to humanity in the abstract and to real individuals sustained by the lifeprocess. The right to life is thus intended to protect the biological process that isa precondition of existence for the individual who possesses rights and freedoms.In this sense we must consider the right to life to be the primary right of everyhuman being.Two trends are apparent in the way that the law addresses this right. On the onehand, human lives from birth onwards, in the absence of any incurable disease ordefect, are increasingly well-protected. On the other hand, the scope of protec-tion is narrowing. For example, access to life – like access to death – may be con-ditional on a certain “quality threshold”. Prenatal diagnosis, and pre-implanta-tion screening in the case of medically assisted conception, can determinewhether the life process continues, just as poor quality of life” can become a jus-tification for its interruption through recourse to euthanasia. The issue of humanembryo research raises the problem of the uses to which human life is put.Cloning, whether for medical purposes (to generate embryos for research) or forreproductive purposes (to bring about the birth of a child), introduces the ques-tion of creating human life.Traditionally, the right to life is concerned with protecting the individual’s lifeagainst potential assaults on it. More recently, the right to life has come toencompass the conditions applying to scientific and medical intervention in thecreation, development or interruption of the life process itself. Human life is nolonger simply a reality that the law sets out to protect; it is also an artefact requir-ing rules and regulations to govern what people do with it and to it. Those rulesare currently as likely to be made by ethics committees as by parliaments or reg-ulatory authorities. It is an area in which constitutional and international courts
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