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German court rejects access to euthanasia medication

February 2, 2022

People in Germany who intend to die by suicide are not legally entitled to buy drugs to do so, a court has ruled. Three people suffering from serious incurable diseases requested access to the restricted medicines.

Plaintiff Harald Mayer speaking to the press before going into court
Harald Mayer, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, request permission to get access to a lethal medicationImage: Guido Kirchner/dpa/picture alliance

A court in the German city of Münster ruled on Wednesday that seriously ill people do not have the right to acquire medication that would allow them to end their lives.

The decision was the result of a case in which three chronically ill people requested special permission from the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) to be allowed to buy the drugs needed to die by suicide.

The regional higher administrative court said the institute was not "obliged to allow seriously ill people who have decided to commit suicide the purchase" of lethal drugs for this purpose.

The ruling added that it is up to a democratically elected government to change the law on acquiring lethal drugs, but that in the meantime such a practice would remain illegal.

No special permissions for lethal medication

Three plaintiffs had requested special permission from BfArM. Only one, a 51-year-old who has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for over 20 years, was in court on Wednesday.

The other two have cancer and another severe mental condition. BfArM, with its headquarters in the western city of Bonn, has so far rejected 225 requests for suicide-assisting medication, according to Catholic news agency KNA.

Germany's Constitutional Court overturned a law two years ago that had strictly outlawed assisting those seeking to end their lives. However, the law banning access to lethal medication remains unchanged.

Assisted suicide debate in Germany

BfArM may only grant special medication permissions that "serve to cure or alleviate illnesses or pathological complaints," the ruling said. A permit "aimed at using narcotics for suicide does not serve to ensure the necessary medical care."

Other options available

The court's ruling emphasized that people in Germany who want to end their lives still have access to a variety of options. It explained that there are doctors who will prescribe medications with lethal effects as well as other forms of supportive treatment.

A spokesperson for the German Health Ministry had said earlier in the day that the court's decision would play a role in any debate in the Bundestag over new rules regarding assisted suicide.

The German Foundation for the Protection of Patients welcomed the court's decision.

"It is good that lawmakers cannot be forced to soften the clear prohibition of the provision of lethal agents," said the foundation's head, Eugen Brysch.

If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/.

ab/sms (AFP, dpa, KNA, EPD)