German Doctors Acquitted After Helping British Man Die | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.12.2008
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German Doctors Acquitted After Helping British Man Die

Two German doctors charged with manslaughter-related offences after helping a terminally ill British man die in 2004 were acquitted Monday after a court ruled they had acted ethically.

Hands clasped with person in hospital bed

Euthanasia has been the subject of an emotional national debate in Germany

Paul Schoenle, the former head of neurology at a rehabilitation center in Magdeburg, and ward physician Frantisek Kovacic had allowed the brother of fatally ill and paralyzed Timothy Sanders to turn off his breathing apparatus in May 2004.

Kovacic then administered strong painkillers to Sanders, who had been paralyzed since an accident in 2002 and could not breathe unaided. Sanders died minutes later.

Schoenle was charged with manslaughter, while Kovacic was tried for being an accessory to manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after he disregarded warning alerts from Sanders' room and provided the pain killers.

"The court found that the doctors behaved correctly both ethically and medically," a court spokeswoman said following the ruling that found that Sanders had already been terminally ill when his life was ended.

Prosecutors said Sanders' brother, Paul, had switched off the life support equipment "with the knowledge of the chief doctor and the ward physician" and the consent of the rest of the Sanders family.

Euthanasia debate

former Hamburg justice minister and euthanasia advocate Roger Kusch

Roger Kusch assisted the suicide of 79-year-old Bettina Schardt in Wuerzburg, Bavaria.

The euthanasia question has been subject to heated public debate over recent months, with German politicians, church leaders and social workers taking a stand against former Hamburg justice minister and euthanasia advocate Roger Kusch.

Kusch advertizes himself as a "suicide counselor," providing advice and support for those seeking to die, such as a 79-year-old Wurzburg woman who chose to end her own life late June despite not having any life-threatening diseases or suffering great physical pain.

Non-active euthanasia -- such as turning off hospital equipment -- is not illegal in Germany if the patient consents to the act.

Nonetheless, German politicians are considering closing what they see as a legal loophole.

In July, the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, called for "organized assisted suicide" or "commercialized assisted suicide," as practiced by Kusch, to be outlawed. The lower house, the Bundestag, is still mulling the legal and ethical implications of the issue.

In the EU, the practice has been legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium, while French law regulates the "right to die," which empowers the terminally ill to refuse life-extending treatments.

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