Germany will once again offer medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
The highest court in Germany recently overturned a ban on medically assisted suicide, allowing terminally patients to seek help ending their lives. The ruling came after a long-time debate regarding physicians and other medical personnel in making end-of-life decisions.
Judge Andreas Vosskuhle said, at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, “The right to a self-determined death includes the freedom to take one’s life and seek help doing so.” He added, for patients suffering, “We may regret their decision and try everything we can do change their minds but ultimately we must accept their freedom to choose.”
The case centered on wording in the law in Germany that restricted professionally assisted suicide and made it punishable by a fine or up to three years in jail. The law allowed assisted suicides for “altruistic motives” but did not allow anyone to offer it to someone else “on business terms.”
“The rule is not compatible with the basic law and thus void,” Vosskuhle, the president of the eight-member Federal Constitutional Court, said. The court found that the right to die “includes the freedom to take one’s life and to rely on the voluntary help of another person.”
With the new ruling, Germany will once again allow those in the medical field, as well as caregivers, to help others end their suffering. But the ruling was, of course, met with backlash.
Hermann Gröhe, a former health minister who helped create the original ban, said he “believed the decision would pave the way toward the normalization of suicide as a treatment option.”
Beatrix von Storch, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, said the decision would “have wide-ranging consequences and would create a cult of death.”
It was hard to determine how many patients would make use of the legalization of this practice. Country statistics show more than 9,000 Germans killed themselves in 2017. In the past, many would travel to Switzerland to engage in medically assisted suicide, because the practice has long been legal. Dignitas, an assisted-dying association in Switzerland, counted 3,225 German members last year alone who made use of this practice.
“The ruling also gives doctors more rights for patients in palliative care,” said Dr. Matthias Thöns, one of the physicians whose complaint took the case to the constitutional court. Thöns, who treats patients in their homes, said previously he “had to worry about how much pain medication” he would leave patients, so he was not at risk of being held liable for a self-inflicted overdose.
“It is a good judgment for people in desperate situations,” Dr. Thöns said. And although he welcomed the decision, Dr. Thöns warned, “The practice needed to be tightly regulated.”
The German government said it “would examine the court’s ruling before deciding how to proceed.”
Michigan-born Dr. Jack Kevorkian, or “Dr. Death,” was an American pathologist who very openly championed a terminal patient’s right to die by physician-assisted suicide in the United States. He increased the public’s interest and awareness in the option, quoting, “Dying is not a crime.” Kevorkian is said to have assisted over one hundred patients with taking their own lives. The epitaph on Kevorkian’s tombstone reads, “He sacrificed himself for everyone’s rights.”