Assisted suicide proposals rejected in Germany

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Legislative proposals to create wide-ranging legal frameworks for assisted suicide have been voted down by the German Parliament. 

An overwhelming majority of Germany’s Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament, backed measures to strengthen suicide prevention, rejecting two Bill which sought it easier for people to access legal drugs to end their lives. 

In principle, assisted suicide is not banned in Germany, however, the draft pieces of legislation by two groups of members of Parliament, from separate parties, wanted to regulate the practise and define who could be prescribed a lethal life-ending drug, under which grounds.

German MPs backed a joint motion to strengthen suicide prevention — with the motion tabled by both groups of MPs referencing the 9,215 people who died by suicide in 2021 in Germany. The motion urged the government to produce a draft law and strategy for suicide prevention within the next 12 months to tackle the country’s suicide rate.

It also called on people with suicidal thoughts and their relatives to have the ability to get in touch with trained counsellors day and night, both online and through a single nationwide telephone number. It also said research on the issue should be expanded.

Regulations which outlawed offering assisted suicide as a professional service in Germany were introduced back in 2015, meaning that doctors could not be involved in the practise. But the ban was overturned in 2020 by Germany’s highest court, meaning that accompanied suicide – a form of assisted suicide – is now exempt from punishment in Germany.

One of the pieces of legislation which sought to cover the practise would allow for assisted suicide in cases where the person who wants to die is an adult, and has been examined on two occasions by a specialist in psychiatry, along with completing a counselling interview prior to making the decision. 

The second draft piece of legislation voted down by the Bundestag proposed to enshrine the right to self-determined death in law. Under such a proposal, there would be no criminal regulation for assisted suicide, and those wanting to die would receive access to lethal drugs under the grounds they had sought counselling.

The law would also have meant that in some cases deemed more extreme, a patient who was in a persistent state of suffering, could be prescribed medication to end their own life by a doctor, without prior counselling.

The German Parliament’s rejection of the proposals was welcomed by Dr Gordon MacDonald, Chief Executive of Care not Killing, an alliance of U.K. groups who oppose the introduction of assisted suicide. Dr MacDonald described the bills as “dangerous” — as he urged English and Scottish parliamentarians to similarly “reject any proposals that weaken out current laws.”

“Once eugenices gets accepted in medicine, things can very quickly spiral downward with people being killed against their will by doctors,” he warned.

“Instead of revisiting a discussion about how to kill people, we should be discussing how to properly fund palliative and social care,” he said. 

Earlier this month, MPs were warned that legalising assisted suicide would mean the State giving the green light to NHS funded deaths — at a time when only one third of palliative care is government funded. 

Dr Matthew Doré, honorary secretary of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, told the Commons health and social care committee: “That is the state essentially endorsing death while not funding and paying for palliative care.”

He was giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into assisted suicide and euthanasia, with the findings to be considered later this year. In Scotland, a debate is also set to take place in the Autumn on Liam McArthur MSP’s Bill to legalise the controversial practice. 

Last month, the Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying held its first meeting, having been set up to examine proposed changes to the law here. 

This piece was first published on Gript  

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