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German pensioner death sparks call for laws against assisted suicide

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German pensioner death sparks call for laws against assisted suicide
Roger Kusch says he helped the woman die. Photo: DPA
18:04 CEST+02:00
Several German states are planning to push for a law that would forbid assisted suicide following the controversial death of an elderly woman who was healthy but feared being put in a retirement home.

The Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament representing the country's 16 federal states, could debate legislation as soon as this Friday. The drive to ban assisted suicide was sparked by the announcement of Hamburg former justice minister, Roger Kusch, that he had helped a 79-year-old woman in Bavaria end her life over the weekend.

The legislation would make “commercial and organized assisted suicide” punishable by up to three years in jail, Baden-Württemberg's Justice Ministry said on Tuesday.

German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt appeared sceptical of attempts to pass legislation on such a highly emotional issue, but she reiterated her rejection of assisted suicide. “A legal threat won't hinder the wishes of many people who for fear of pain or loss of their dignity to be able to make decisions about their lives,” she said.

But like many other German officials across the political spectrum, Schmidt had nothing but contempt for Kusch's media spectacle on Monday. “What Mr Kusch did there is macabre propaganda,” she said.

Kusch told a press conference that he helped the pensioner Bettina S. from the Bavarian city of Würzburg end her life with a lethal cocktail of sedatives and malaria medicine. He apparently did not use a suicide machine that he's developed. He showed videos of the woman expressing her desire for an “accompanied suicide” in order to avoid spending the rest of her days in a home for the elderly.

But it doesn't appear as if Kusch will face any legal repercussions for his actions after prosecutors labelled the woman's death a normal suicide. “It was a normal suicide without legally relevant foreign participation,” said chief prosecutor Clemens Lückemann on Tuesday.

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