German pensioner death sparks call for laws against assisted suicide

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.

German pensioner death sparks call for laws against assisted suicide
Roger Kusch says he helped the woman die. Photo: DPA

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.


Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.