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German parliament rejects bills creating legal framework for assisted suicide

by | Jul 11, 2023

Both of these proposals failed on a free vote by wide margins of dozens of votes.

By Jonathon Van Maren

On July 6, German legislators stalemated on two multi-party bills on how to regulate assisted suicide after the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2020 that Germany’s ban was a violation of the right of citizens to choose how to die by prohibiting the participation of medical professionals in the process. Until the ruling, euthanasia – a third party killing a patient, usually by lethal injection – was banned, while provision of the means of suicide (such as “medication”) was in a “legal gray area.”

The 2015 law struck down by the court as unconstitutional permitted assisted suicide for “altruistic motives” while banning it “on business terms” – offering it under those conditions could result in a three-year jail sentence. Many who had been previously engaged in the euthanasia business had stopped their work in response to the ruling. Assisted suicide in Germany is still rare relative to other countries where it has become available. 

Lawmakers have been attempting to redraft rules on assisted suicide and euthanasia in the wake of the court’s ruling. One proposal would have legalized doctors prescribing lethal medications between three weeks to three months after the patient had undergone mandatory counseling; Katrin Helling-Plahr of the Free Democratic Party stated that people who decided that they wanted to die should be able to do so without facing any potential legal ramifications. 

A second proposal permitted assisted suicide after a psychiatrist determined over the course of two sessions a minimum of three months apart that the person’s desire to commit suicide was of a “voluntary, serious, and permanent nature.” The second proposal included a proviso that the person requesting suicide could not be suffering from a mental illness that would impair their decision-making abilities and stipulated that counseling must also be received from a second and separate doctor.  

This proposal was championed by center-left Social Democrat (SPD) MP Lars Castellucci, who stated that it would make assisted suicide possible without encouraging it, but that it was important to include criminal penalties for abuses to protect the vulnerable. 

Both of these proposals failed on a free vote by wide margins of dozens of votes, with the more restrictive proposal, which DW described as “proposing that assisted suicide be fundamentally punishable by law (with exceptions),” failing by a margin of 363 to 304.

Unfortunately, both proposals would have created a legal framework for those attempting to kill themselves by providing access to lethal drugs, with the ‘safeguards’ such as reserving the “right” to adults and increasing suicide prevention services having proven inadequate in other jurisdictions that have legislated the “right to die.” 

As Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition stated:

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition believes that passing an assisted suicide bill would create a framework for approving assisted suicide. The court struck down the German law prohibiting assisted suicide in February 2020, but there have been very few assisted suicide deaths. Creating a legal framework will lead to more deaths by assisted suicide and the law will inevitably be challenged in the courts by groups wanting to expand it.

Underlying all this is Germany’s past. As CTV noted at the end of their coverage: “The issue is a particularly sensitive topic in a country where more than 200,000 people with physical and mental disabilities were killed under euthanasia programs run by the Nazis.” That’s what you call “burying the lede.

Categories: Assisted Suicide
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