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German parliament introduces bills on assisted suicide

June 9, 2015

Germany's Bundestag has been presented with two draft bills aimed at expanding suicide help for patients with no hope of recovery. The right to die has been a hotly debated topic across Europe in recent years.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Germany inched ever closer to joining its neighbor Belgium in allowing active assisted suicide on Tuesday as two new draft bills were presented to the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, ahead of a debate on the subject in July.

According to German daily "Die Welt," one version, which was sponsored by at least one member of every party in the Bundestag, is meant to represent a "middle way" between punishing those who provide euthanasia assistance and a complete deregulation of the process. It stipulates that groups which would provide these services for a fee - which are legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland - would still be forbidden. Anyone making money from another's suicide would be punished with three years in prison.

The other, authored by Renate Künast of the Greens and Petra Sitte of the Left party, goes even further to remove legal hurdles to assisted suicide so that any responsible adult who has been counseled by a doctor would have the right to die.

In Germany, it is currently illegal for a doctor to prescribe and administer a lethal dosage, although it is allowed in some circumstances. A patient must be able to take the drug without any physical assistance - effectively excluding anyone paralyzed or in a vegetative state.

Assisted suicide rights growing

Europe has become the frontier for changing attitudes about assisted suicide and euthanasia in recent years, with Belgium and the Netherlands being the only two nations where unfettered access to dying assistance has been enshrined in law.

Yet in neighboring France the prevailing religious attitudes have collided with progressive "right to die" advocates, resulting in a number of high-profile legal battles over whether to allow doctors or family members to take an ill family member off life support.

The most recent case in the spotlight was that of Vincent Lambert, whose right to die was finally granted on Friday following a six-year legal battle between Lambert's devoutly Catholic parents who wanted to keep their son on life support, and his doctors and wife who argued he had no chance of recovery.

The European Court of Human Rights, backing up an earlier ruling by a French court, ruled that removing Lambert's intravenous food and water supply did not violate his human rights.

Germany's Bundestag currently aims to pass new legislation on assisted suicide by November this year.

es/msh (AFP, dpa)