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German parliament discusses euthanasia for terminally ill patients

A group of prominent German MPs have listed a set of requirements to legalize assisted suicide in the country. A German court also ruled in favor of a coma patient's decision to forgo life-support treatment.

Politicians of the Bundestag are rallying to organize support for physician-assisted suicide for patients who are in terminally ill and seek a means to end their suffering. The group said they considered it to be a "breach of human dignity" when laws to protect human life "caused suffering."

Politicians striving towards progress in assisted-suicide regulation in Germany include Parliament Vice-Sresident Peter Hintze, Social Democrats Karl Lauterbach, Burkhard Lischka and Carola Reimann (SPD), Christian Democrat Katherina Reiche (CDU) and member of the Christian Social Union Dagmar Woehrl.

A human being who has acute pain "should be able to decide how much pain he can bear," Hintze said while presenting a paper on assisted suicide in the German parliament on Thursday. This decision should be taken in an atmosphere of trust between the patient and his doctor, and doctors should be allowed to assist, on a voluntary basis, Hintze added.

The MPs listed seven preconditions for suicide assisted by a doctor. The first condition requires that the patient be an adult and have the ability to think rationally. He or she has to be suffering from an incurable disease which will inevitably lead to death.

The patient would have to be suffering tremendously and should have undergone palliative treatments and therapy. A medical diagnosis of the patient would have to be confirmed by a second doctor. The patient would also have to commit suicide himself, meaning he or she would have to take the fatal medicine on his or her own. However, this regulation would not apply to mentally ill persons, such as those suffering from depression, due to doubts about their ability to make competent decisions.

The parliamentary paper also stressed that the regulations for physician-assisted death were not to be included in the criminal law but were to be a part of civil law. This way the relationship of trust between the doctor and patient would not be undermined.

New court ruling for coma patients

Meanwhile, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that assisting a coma patient with death was possible even if the patient had not left any instructions on the matter. In such a case, a special supervisory court would decide on releasing the coma patient from his or her life-supporting systems.

The court was passing its verdict on a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage in 2009 and has been living in a coma since then. Her husband and her daughter, who are listed as her caretakers, approached the court to allow them to take her off life support. They claimed she had told them her desire to be taken off life support in case she went into a comatose state.

The German court also said in its decision that the earlier wishes of the patient in this regard were to be taken into consideration. These could also include "all statements of the affected person, which specified concrete life and treatment situations, but which did not satisfy the requirements for a will by the patient."

Opposition to the proposed changes

Germany does not have any law which specifically regulates euthanasia for the terminally ill. In this context, the German Federal Court's ruling is being considered a milestone for families with relatives who have been in a coma for a long time and German parliamentarians hope for a similar breakthrough in euthanasia legislation.

Matthias Kopp, spokesperson for the German Bishop's Conference, has categorically rejected physician-assisted suicide, saying that it "would pressurize people in borderline situations."

Bavarian Health Minister Melanie Huml expressed her opinion saying: "I decisively reject a regulation, which will lead to doctors helping severely ill people to commit suicide."

The group of MPs also called for a ban of controversial euthanasia organizations in Germany. The German parliament will debate legislative action on physician-assisted suicide on November 13. A decision on this issue is likely to be taken next year.

mg/sb (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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