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Doctors regain right to decide on suicide aid

The Local · 4 Apr 2012, 07:00

Published: 04 Apr 2012 07:00 GMT+02:00

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Previously, doctors who deliberately left a patient with the means to commit suicide did so under the threat of fines of up to €50,000, imposed by their professional association, the Chamber of Physicians (ÄK).

But the ÄK's ban was lifted by Berlin’s administrative court on Monday, as judges found it was “too general,” court spokesman Stephan Groscurth told The Local.

While euthanasia remains illegal in Germany, if a doctor is certain that their dying patient wishes to end their life they can now leave them the means to commit suicide without facing censure from the ÄK.

When a doctor cannot medically help a suffering patient and has a close personal relationship with them, the court has decided that it would be, “against the freedom of conscience not to help them,” said Groscurth.

However, “actively helping someone to die is still seen as unethical,” he added.

Some doctors have welcomed the decision as a step towards legalising euthanasia in Germany, as terminally-ill patients who want assistance to die have to do so in countries where it is legal, like Switzerland.

"This is a step towards stopping 'suicide-tourism' that is happening in Germany right now," judge Dieter Graefe told The Local. As an expert on the legalities of assisted suicide, Graefe has worked with Dignitas - a clinic based in Switzerland that caters for those wishing to die.

Berlin urologist Uwe-Christian Arnold has been campaigning for laws to clarify and enable assisted suicide for years and admitted that he had helped a number of terminally ill patients to die, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported on Monday.

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“We are very pleased with the decision,” he told the paper. “I would never help someone to die who was not terminal and who had not expressed a firm wish to die.”

He said most Germans were in favour of legalising assisted suicide, and that he could not support the idea of people having to travel abroad if they chose to end their own life.

The Local/jcw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:50 April 4, 2012 by catjones
Suicide is not the only option. Hospice offers palliative care to the terminally ill. Nevertheless, it is a personal and final decision and should be unhindered by outside influence.
18:13 April 4, 2012 by Sayer
I recommend Hans Kung's short book, "Dying With Dignity" as it is a very balanced treatise on this delicate topic. It has useful legal concepts which still elude German law, bound by guilt from days when those "unfit to live" were disposed of. It also talks of ethical issues in a modern society, and most of all it talks of individual rights. Life may be a right, but it is not a duty.

Related to this is a very recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The authors therefore concluded that "what we call 'after-birth abortion' (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled".

Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost touch with our very souls.
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