Lifestyle Culture and Society 16 Apr 2019 The debate on euthan ...

The debate on euthanasia continues

Published Apr 16, 2019, 2:00 pm IST
Updated Apr 16, 2019, 2:59 pm IST
Disparity on legalising euthanasia persists in European countries.
Three have legalised euthanasia: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. (Photo: AFP)
 Three have legalised euthanasia: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. (Photo: AFP)

Berlin: Can the state help an incurable patient to die without pain? Germany, where the Church retains significant influence, reopens this debate today before its highest court.

For four years, conflicting signals have been sent on the subject of the end of life, rendering illegible what is allowed or not. The question is sensitive in a country where the elderly are more numerous, but also where the spectre of Nazism continues to float, the 3rd Reich having largely resorted to euthanasia especially to kill the disabled.


In 2015, the Bundestag, after passionate exchanges, had banned the "organised" assistance to suicide, punishable by three years in prison.

But two years later, the Administrative Court of Leipzig, Germany’s highest administrative authority, made a surprise decision: the judges considered that "in exceptional cases, the state can not prevent a patient’s access to anaesthetic products that would allow him to commit suicide in a dignified and painless way."

This court had been seized by the husband of a woman who was completely paralysed in 2002 by an accident and had to go to Switzerland to benefit from assisted suicide in 2005.

The judges had agreed with the husband, setting three conditions: that the suffering of the patient be unbearable, that the decision to die be taken freely and that there is no reasonable alternative.

In the face of the outcry, especially in influential Catholic and Protestant churches, the federal government finally suspended in 2018 the implementation of this decision.

He can not return to "officials or, in the end, me as a minister", to decide "who can die", estimated in February 2018 Jens Spahn, a senior official of the CDU who will become a few weeks after minister of the Health.

Seizure by German and Swiss associations of assisted suicide, doctors or patients, the Constitutional Court will address the issue Tuesday and Wednesday, but its judgment is not expected for months.

The complainants believe that the current legislation violates Articles 1 and 2 of the German Basic Law on the "Intangible" Respect for Human "Dignity". "There is not only a right to life but also a right to a responsible death", argues in the weekly Die Zeit one of the plaintiffs, the doctor Michael de Ridder.

As suicide is not an offence under German law, doctors and relatives also want greater legal certainty in accompanying patients, especially in the event of a cessation of treatment leading to death.

The Catholic Church has already put pressure on the judges of Karlsruhe. The Archbishop of Berlin, Bishop Heiner Koch, warned Monday against any "change in the value system" by the Federal Court of Justice and said he hoped "a strong signal for the protection of life".

On this subject, disparities persist between European countries. Three have legalised euthanasia: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Others, such as Switzerland, France, the Scandinavian countries or Great Britain, Spain or Portugal tolerate them a form of aid to death, with the administration of painkillers resulting in shortened life of an incurable patient.

Countries with a strong Catholic tradition, such as Italy, Ireland or Poland, remain unresponsive to any aid to death. Other ethical controversies are going through Germany in recent months.

The government of presumed consent to donate organs has recently stirred political and religious sentiments. Compulsory vaccination or the possible reimbursement of prenatal tests for trisomy is also debated.