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Court rules euthanasia with patient consent ok

AFP · 25 Jun 2010, 17:14

Published: 25 Jun 2010 12:07 GMT+02:00
Updated: 25 Jun 2010 17:14 GMT+02:00

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The high-profile case involved 71-year-old Erika Küllmer who slipped into a vegetative state after a cerebral haemorrhage in October 2002 and, confined to a nursing home, was fed through a tube for five years.

Although Küllmer had expressed the wish not to be kept alive under such circumstances, the home refused to let her die.

On the advice of her lawyer, Küllmer's daughter finally snipped the feeding tube with a pair of scissors in the presence of her brother and Küllmer died two days later of "natural causes," according to an autopsy.

A lower court acquitted the daughter of killing her mother because she had "mistakenly" followed her lawyer's advice. The son committed suicide a few months after the death of his mother.

The family attorney, Wolfgang Putz, was convicted and given a nine-month suspended sentence.

But the federal tribunal found that Putz, a prominent patients' rights advocate, had acted legally and in the patient's interest because she had clearly expressed her wish not to be kept alive artificially.

"An improvement in her health condition was not to be expected," the court said in a statement on the ruling.

"The expressed wish of the patient in September 2002, which her carers had approved and confirmed, was binding."

Chief Justice Ruth Rissing-van Saan had said when agreeing to hear the case that the court aimed to define the line between "killing" and "natural death."

The issue is particularly charged in Germany, where the Nazis cynically labelled a mass extermination programme for citizens deemed unfit to live "euthanasia."

Before the court, Putz had argued that Küllmer's life was no longer worth living in the eyes of her family.

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Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger hailed the ruling as a victory for self-determination and dignity in death.

"There may not be forced medical treatment against a person's will," she said.

But patients' right organisations warned that Germans needed to be "crystal clear" in formulating their wishes.

"Only clearly formulated living wills can be respected," Sonja Hecker of the German Association for Provision and Care Rights advised, to spare dying patients and their loved ones battles in court.

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Your comments about this article

14:32 June 25, 2010 by NYsteve
What an incredibly forward thinking law/judgement!! With all the good that modern medicine has done, one of the good/bad things is "prolonging life"...even if that means patient suffering. I wish we had this law in the US, but it is always being argued over in the courts. My mother died many years ago after suffering for years from Multiple Sclerosis. That doesn't kill you, but the other complications do. She was in pain for so long...she was a young (died at 49), vibrant and strong woman....tall and athletic......when she died she looked 90 years old and weighed about 80 pounds.....so many times she wished she could have taken something and just "eased away" peacefully....

In cases like this I believe that if a patient decides that euthanasia is their way, it should be fully backed by the law and society.....modern medicine is to heal AND ease suffering.
18:54 June 25, 2010 by beeker
Right on. Its about time. My living will states that no extreme measure will be used to prolong my life. I carry a copy with my passport when I travel.

Note to NY Steve;

Oregon and Washington (the state) have physician assisted suicide laws. Oregon's law was voted in twice due to court challenges from groups that would rather see someone suffering before death. Several other states have decriminalized assisted suicide. The only part the the doctor plays is to prescribe the lethal drugs after much interaction between family and patient.
19:54 June 25, 2010 by bernie1927
Yes!! You guys are so right. My wife and I - and we are in our eighties - have a living will too. Religion is the culprit, again! Poor Kervorkian.
23:11 June 25, 2010 by Bob Morris
I would only agree with this sort of decision if the same rules would be applied that are used in Oregon. In Oregon, two doctors must be consulted who were not involved in the patient's treatment. Speaking from personal experience, I have observed that the motives of children and relatives are not always the nicest. I agree that people should be able to choose not to be kept alive if they become comatose. However, an outsider should be present who will help to guarantee that the patient's wishes are really being followed.
03:29 June 26, 2010 by Jasmine33
I'm glad this poor woman was finally allowed to leave this place but ashame it took so long, since the home "refused to let her die". May she rest in peace. It goes to show that your desire to not be kept alive artificially must be in black and white on a legal document, not just a verbal expression. It's called a Living Will and I too have one. I am a 5-year breast cancer survivor, having celebrated yet another birthday today, June 25th, but neither do I want to be kept alive should things go sour once done with mandatory medication this August.

There was a story in the US of a woman who was in a bad car wreck and left in a vegetative state. She only verbally stated her desire beforehand to not be kept alive but had nothing written on paper. Her parents wanted to let her go by taking her off the feeding tubes and respirator but had to battle the courts for eight years. Finally they won and the woman died four days later.

The story of the woman in this article is really tragic with her son committing suicide, the lawyer given a suspended sentence, but oh at least the daughter was not handed a murder charge because they decided she was only following the "misguided" instructions from the lawyer. Really! I'm in support of a person's right to die if there is no hope for recovery or quality of life. I'd rather die at home with family around and massive doses of Morphine, but no feeding tubes, respirators, or heroic measures if the diagnosis is terminal and there is no hope of recovery.
14:29 June 29, 2010 by binthere222
One must understand ALL of the possibilities of what this judge and lawyers have done.

Certainly, there are the very few for whom this "exit door" is a relief and a blessing. But what happens when more than a very few are guided to this door or, sadly, pushed through?

If anyone who decides to, can sign a paper to do this, then what can be done to make a person sign such a paper? What other emotional or financial or political or legal pressures can occur which would cause a person to sign the paper and walk through this door?

"My old aunt Greta is not feeling very well, you know. Perhaps it is better that I speak with her about this and that she decide to just go on, now. After all she has been putting too many miles on her BMW recently and it is better that I drive it before she has an accident."

Thousands of the wrong persons may walk, or be pushed, through such a door, just so a few may find their justifiable rest. Better to leave the status quo in place than to give the lawyers such a strong power of life and death and see the whong persons take this exit.
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