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Germany: Highest Court Allows Assisted Dying

On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court sacked a law that prohibits euthanasia. The judges said there was a “right to self-determined dying”.

Today’s ruling ends a discussion that lasted for decades. The general personality right included the right to self-determined dying, the judges at the Federal Constitutional Court said. There was a right to take one’s own life and to accept help in doing so, the court’s President Andreas Voßhkuhle stated.

‘Commercial Assisted Dying’

The Federal Constitutional Court sacked paragraph 217 in Germany’s criminal law which prohibited assisted dying. But the judges also stressed their ruling did not mean that assisted suicide could not be regulated.

In 2015, the Berlin Bundestag had decided to forbid assisted dying. Associations, doctors and patients had entered an appeal afterwards. According to the law, as it existed until today, doctors who helped terminally ill patients to commit suicide could end up in jail. The law did differ between “commercial assisted dying” and individuals who did not charge for that kind of assistance.

Big Question

Still, the Federal Constitutional Court said the lawmakers at the Bundestag had gone too far, also because repeated suicide assistance could have led to punishment too. The legislators could support suicide prevention, the court said. Also there was no entitlement to assisted dying. But individuals who wanted it needed support. Therefore assisted suicide needed to be legally possible.

The court does not want assisted dying to be limited to terminally ill people only. In every phase of a person’s life, this kind of help needed to be available, the judges say. After the ruling the big question is how exactly assisted dying will be regulated from now on.

Active Euthanasia Prohibited

Active mercy killing is still forbidden in Germany. For instance, an individual may not kill another with a poison syringe, even if that person asks for it. But passive euthanasia is legal, under certain conditions. In this case a person would provide a poison syringe or a poison drink and the individual who wants to die uses it himself or herself.

The discussion about how exactly assisted dying should be regulated has already begun. Several politicians in Berlin demanded clear rules on the matter and the approval of euthanasia medication by the Ministry of Health. In the past decades, terminally ill Germans who wanted to die went to Switzerland or other countries in which assisted suicide was allowed.

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