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German Assisted Suicide Debate Heats Up

DW staff (win)October 12, 2005

Germany's debate about assisted suicide has flared up after a state minister said he would back legalization. Church officials meanwhile called for a ban of a Swiss group that wants to help terminally ill Germans to die.

Like Americans, Germans seem split on the matterImage: AP

Roger Kusch, who serves as justice minister in the city state of Hamburg, is the first leading CDU politician who has come out in support of assisted suicide for severely ill people after a Swiss group called Dignitas recently announced it plans to open a German office in Hanover to make it assisted suicide more accessible for Germans seeking an end to their suffering.

"Responsible, compassionate assisted suicide does not clash with human basic rights as far as I'm concerned," Kush wrote in a guest commentary for Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper. "Instead, it's an expression of Christian charity."

The minister backs a change to Germany's law that punishes assisted suicide. Kusch said that he could see assisted suicide to be legal, a doctor would have to determine that a person has a terminal illness and thoroughly advise the patient. A statement from the patient certified by a notary would also be required.

Political opposition

Kusch's statements have caused uproar, with a spokesman for Hamburg's state government hurrying to clarify that the politician had spoken as a private individual.

Germany's hospice foundation sharply criticized Kusch for his "deeply appalling" remarks.

A man lies in an intensive care unitImage: Christoph & Friends

Eugen Brysch, the foundation's executive director, said terminally ill and dying people don't need compassion nor mercy, but attention and highly professional care instead.

The youth wing of Hamburg's Christian Democratic Union also opposed Kusch's proposal, saying that killing a person could not be the answer to suffering and illness.

Social Democrats also criticized Kusch's comparison of assisted suicide and abortion. Kusch had written that he didn't understand why assisted suicide was punishable with at least six months in prison while abortion was not.

Promoting a ban

The bishop of Hanover's Lutheran church, Margot Kässmann, meanwhile called for a ban on Dignitas.

Bischöfin mit Nonnen in Deutschland
Margot Kässmann (center)Image: AP

"If it's legally possible, this should happen," she said, adding that the group was opening the door for assisted suicide. Kässmann said that Germans had to rethink their approach toward severely sick people, most of whom die anonymously in hospitals.

Kässmann's colleague from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, Frank July, also came out in opposition of assisted suicide.

Lower Saxony's Justice Minister Elisabeth Heister-Neumann (CDU) has announced that she plans to introduce legislation in Germany's upper house that would penalize agencies that help with assisted suicide such as Dignitas.

German President Horst Köhler has also come out in opposition of assisted suicide.