• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Should the sick be given help to die?

Alex Evans · 16 Jan 2014, 10:00

Published: 16 Jan 2014 10:00 GMT+01:00

Euthanasia is forbidden in Germany, but there are at least 12 groups or individuals that offer legal assistance to those who wish to die, an investigation on political programme Report Mainz revealed on Tuesday. Last year, they helped at least 155 people commit suicide.

Offering support, medical advice and if needed the means to end a life, Dying Assistance Germany (StHD) is one of these groups. Founded in 2009 by former Hamburg state minister for justice Roger Kusch, it helped 40 people end their lives in 2013.

Its symbol is a black ribbon. Its patients suffer from chronic, incurable and often painful diseases. They die under the supervision of a member of staff.

And a Forsa poll released on Thursday by StHD, which quizzed 1,005 people in Germany, showed 70 percent would like the option of assisted suicide if they became seriously ill.

A Swiss assisted suicide clinic run by Dignitas also offers help to Germans - more than those of any other nationality. Since opening in 1998, Germans have made up over 56 percent of people opting to die there, totalling 840 people. Of those deaths, 92 took place last year.

German branch Dignitas Deutschland is not legally allowed to offer the same service as its Swiss parent clinic, but it campaigns for the right to die and puts Germans who wish to commit suicide in touch with their Swiss colleagues.

But not all of these “dying assistants” work in groups. One man operating outside of an organization is 70-year-old Peter Puppe, an ex-school deputy headteacher. Report Mainz heard how he admitted to helping four or five people to die every year since 2005, most often using a lethal mixture of drugs.

"I help when it is a case of a serious illness without any expectation of improvement or medical help, let alone recovery, and the definitive message over a long time is, 'I don't want to live anymore'," he said. He takes no active part as this would count as illegal “active suicide assistance”.

Helping may soon be illegal

This sort of passive assisted suicide - not to be confused with euthanasia which can imply active involvement in the death - offered by Puppe, the StHD and others is perfectly legal in Germany, Munich-based medical ethics lawyer Wolfgang Putz told Report Mainz.

"This self-styled 'dying assistant' is acting entirely within the law so long as the people enlisting his help do so of their own free will," Putz said. "It all boils down to whether the patient who wants to commit suicide is willing and has properly considered beforehand," he added.

But that could be set to change as ministers from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc, including health minister Hermann Gröhe and CDU general secretary Peter Tauber, plan on passing through parliament a ban on all forms of assisted death where money changes hands.

Gröhe said in an interview on January 6th with the Rheinische Post newspaper that it was "reprehensible" to make money from assisted suicide. Tauber, meanwhile, has called for a blanket ban.

Patients put off by taboo

Even without a legal hindrance, though, many patients may be held back from pursuing assisted death by the practice's controversial nature and confusing the legal and ethical background.

A study from the Institute for Medical Ethics at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, included in Report Mainz, showed that of 66 patients suffering from muscle-wasting disease ALS, 42 percent had considered suicide and 50 percent could see themselves asking a doctor to help them end their lives.

Despite this, the results also showed very few patients thought they could actually bring themselves to talk to a doctor about assisted suicide.

Ralf Jox, who led the study, told Report Mainz it was a "taboo in the relationship between doctor and patient," and recommended regulation and control of the practice instead of a ban, which he said would not be doing right by patients.

Free Democrat (FDP) politician Wolfgang Kubicki also added his voice to calls for the legalization of assisted suicide in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

Kubicki's brother died slowly of apallic syndrome, known as Persistent Vegetative State. He told the paper: "It is of central importance for me that people have the right to end their lives on their own terms.

"The state cannot presume to categorically ban citizens from such a personal decision using law.”

What do you think? Should laws around assisted suicide be relaxed or tightened? Leave your comments below.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Evans (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Merkel deplores 'night of horror' in Munich
Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Munich had suffered a "night of horror" after a shooting spree in the southern German city left nine people dead.

Munich shooting
Munich attacker was shy video game fan
People laying flowers at the site of the shootings. Photo: DPA.

David Ali Sonboly was a quiet, helpful teenager who loved playing video games. His neighbours say there were no warning signs before his deadly rampage at a Munich shopping mall.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman inspired by rightwing Breivik: police
Photo: DPA

The lone teenager who shot dead nine people in a gun rampage in Munich was "obsessed" with mass killers such as Norwegian rightwing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the Islamic State group, police said Saturday.

Munich shooting
Turks, Kosovans and a Greek among shooting victims
Photo: DPA

Three Turkish citizens were among the nine people killed in Germany's Munich mall shooting. Three Kosovans were also among the nine victims.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman was likely not Isis terrorist: police
Flowers laid at the Olympia Shopping Centre underground station. Photo: DPA

According to initial investigations by Munich police, the young man who went on a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday evening was a lone gunman without motive, not a terrorist.

Munich shooting
'Lone' Munich shooter kills nine, commits suicide
Photo: DPA

A teenage German-Iranian gunman who killed nine people in a shooting spree at a busy Munich shopping centre and then committed suicide had likely acted alone, German police said Saturday.

As it happened
Nine dead in shooting rampage in Munich
File photo: DPA

Nine people are dead after "at least one person" went on a shooting spree in a Munich shopping centre on Friday evening. An attacker is believed to be among the dead.

German Turkish community split by unrest after coup plot
Pro-Erdogan protesters in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Hatred between supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and those opposed to him has exploded on social media in Germany in the wake of a failed coup attempt last Friday.

Germany stresses defence of Baltics after Trump comments
Photo: DPA

Germany on Friday stressed its promise to protect its NATO allies after White House hopeful Donald Trump called the commitment into question.

Three quarters of Germans fear terror attack 'soon'
Police guard a football stadium. Photo: DPA

The figure has shot up from 69 percent just two weeks ago.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Nice was an attack on France, not on Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,799
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd