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Killing Machine

DW staff (win)March 28, 2008

A former justice minister of Hamburg on Friday revealed a "killing machine" that allows terminally ill people to commit suicide. While the procedure's not punishable, the man still expects to be taken to court.

Roger Kusch stands behind the killing machine he developed
Kusch is convinced that his machine will give people the option of a humane deathImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Presenting his machine to reporters on Friday, March 28, former Hamburg Justice Minister Roger Kusch said that it would give terminally ill people in Germany a chance to end their lives instead of forcing them to travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.

A picture of Roger Kusch
Kusch has made assisted suicide his missionImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"The machine is ready for use," Kusch said of the device that's made up of a conventional intravenous drip feed. It will be fitted with two syringes, one of which is filled with an anesthetic while the other one contains lethal potassium chloride.

A doctor would place a needle in the patient's vein, which is not punishable under German law. The patient would then get a button placed in his or her hand and decide whether to push it or not, hence starting the deadly infusion.

Kusch said that the whole procedure would last around four minutes, the person would die much more quickly than that after losing consciousness within a few seconds. He added that two doctors were ready to place the needle and issue a certificate ahead of the procedure, stating that the person was indeed terminally ill and still in charge of their mental capacities.

Harsh criticism

Germany's medical community and church leaders quickly criticized Kusch's plan.

A hand clasps another hand of a patient
Should Germany offer more care to the terminally ill rather than a way for them to commit suicide?Image: AP

"We don't need a killing machine, but instead terminal care and palliative medicine that relieves people of pain and fear at the end of their lives," said Frank Ulrich Montgomery, the vice president of the German Medical Association, according to German news service DPA.

Hamburg's Catholic auxiliary bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke, also rejected Kusch's machine, calling it a "torture instrument" and a "macabre game with death, disguised by noble words of compassion and covered by questionable legal nit-picking," according to Catholic news service KNA.

Jaschke added that the church was also aware that humans had a right to die.

"You cannot prolong life at any price and you have to help people to die humanely," he said. "But not by using this killing apparatus."

From minister to activist

A picture of Ole von Beust
Beust is currently trying to form Germany's first coalition between conservatives and Greens at state levelImage: AP

Kusch told reporters that he expected to face criminal proceedings despite not actually breaking any laws.

Kusch was Hamburg's justice minister for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union from 2001 to 2006. He left the government after a falling-out with his friend, Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust, and founded a right-wing splinter party.

During the city state's February elections, he made assisted suicide one of his main campaign topics, but only received 0.5 percent of votes. Kusch has now left politics and heads a non-profit organization for assisted suicide.