Debate about the new legal regulation of assisted suicide in Germany

The Secretary of Health Herman Gröhe (CDU) pronounced his support of the criminalization of organized assisted suicide of severely ill people. Thereupon, the Great Coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD decided on an according legislative procedure. On 13 November, 2014 an orientation debate was held in the German Bundestag on the topic of "Assisted Suicide". In the following, parliamentary groups elaborated four law proposals that were discussed at the German Bundestag on 2 July, 2015 in a first reading. The law proposals reach from the complete prohibition of assisted suicide to an extensive legislation. 

In their law proposal, Renate Künast (Grüne), Petra Sitte (Linke) and Kai Gehring (Grüne) stand for both suicide and assistance of it staying free of punishment. Assisted dying associations shall also keep being allowed. Only commercial working associations shall be prohibited. Doctors and members of associations that want to provide assisted dying shall be obliged to take part in documented consultations.

Law proposal (German) Online Version

Patrick Sensburg, Thomas Dörflinger, Peter Bayer and Hubert Hüppe (all CDU/CSU) ask for a prohibition not only of active assisted dying but also of assisted suicide. Furthermore, the incitement to assisted suicide shall be criminalized. In addition, care for the dying should be strengthened.

Law proposal (German) Online Version 

Peter Hintze (CDU/CSU), Carola Reimann, Karl Lauterbach und Burkhard Lischka (alle SPD) plädieren für eine Zulassung ärztlich assistierter Sterbehilfe. Dafür sind in dem Gesetzesentwurf sieben Bedingungen festgehalten: Die Person muss volljährig und einwilligungsfähig sein und an einer unumkehrbaren tödlichen Krankheit leiden, die nach dem Vier-Augen-Prinzip bestätigt wurde. Darüber hinaus muss die ärztliche Beihilfe freiwillig erfolgen, eine umfassende Beratung des Patienten stattgefunden haben und die sterbenswillige Person muss die Tat selbst durchführen.

Law proposal (German) Online Version

In their law proposal, Michael Brand (CDU/CSU), Kerstin Griese (SPD), Kathrin Vogler (Linke) and Harald Terpe (Grüne) justify the necessity to criminalize organized furtherance of suicide. Assisted suicide conducted by relatives or other persons close to the patient shall remain without punishment.

Law proposal (German) Online Version

On 5 November, the Bundestag voted without party discipline on all four law proposals. The law proposal of the member group around Michael Brand (CDU) and Kerstin Griese (SPD) was finally approved. The draft received 309 of 599 valid votes in the second reading; in the third reading it received 360 Yesses versus 233 Nays and 9 abstentions.

Since then, the resulting legal situation has been increasingly perceived as a situation of legal uncertainty and criticized, because the punishable "businesslike" nature of assisted suicide, which is actually aimed at banning professional euthanasia organizations, leaves it unclear in the wording of the law whether and to what extent doctors and palliative care physicians are also affected by the threat of punishment for providing pain-relieving drugs that either accelerate the onset of death or can be used by the patient in high doses specifically for suicide. Even a conversation about assisted suicide seemed to many doctors to be criminally risky. The SPD health politician Karl Lauterbach states: "In truth, the law has not solved any problem. The doctors are withdrawing, and seriously ill patients are left alone more than ever before.

The new law has since been declared invalid by the BVerfG ruling of 26 February 2020. The legal uncertainty that has arisen has been removed.

BVerfG (2020): Urteil des Zweiten Senats vom 26. Februar 2020. Az: 2 BvR 2347/15, Rn. 1-343. 

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