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German parliament begins right to die deliberations

July 2, 2015

The Bundestag has begun debating on whether to expand the right to assisted suicide as some of their European neighbors have done. Four competing draft laws have been presented for consideration.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, opened debate on assisted suicide for the terminally and chronically ill on Thursday, bringing a sensitive topic to the floor which saw the discussion split down predictable party lines.

The passionate and reflective debate centered on navigating the divide between the right to self-determination and the protection of life.

One lawmaker, Ulla Schmidt of the Social Democrats (SPD), voiced a concern that assisted suicide harkens back to the euthanasia program employed during the Nazi era, and called on her colleagues to proceed with caution. Katrin Göring-Eckhardt of the Green party said she was a worried about becoming the type of society that expects "the suffering elderly and those in need to bring an end to their own lives."

Competing laws

The Bundestag heard no less than four drafts bills that range from a complete ban on assisted suicide to broad allowance for most forms of helping a patient end their life.

In Germany, it is currently illegal for a doctor to prescribe and administer a lethal dosage. Some forms of assisted suicide, however, can be tolerated: a patient must be able to take the drug without any physical assistance - effectively excluding anyone paralyzed or in a vegetative state.

One possible law, authored by Renate Künast of the Greens and Petra Sitte of the Left party, would completely remove legal hurdles to assisted suicide so that any responsible adult who has been counseled by a doctor would have the right to die. This means assisted dying organizations, like Switzerland's Dignitas, would be allowed to operate in Germany.

The draft with the most support behind it was presented by Michael Brand of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Kerstin Griese of the SPD. They have prepared what they call a "middle way" between punishing those who provide euthanasia assistance and a complete deregulation of the process.

This version 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.

Opponents of Brand and Greise's draft said it would dissuade doctors from helping terminally ill patients seeking the right to die, in case angry relatives argue that doctors are making money from practicing.

CDU's Sensberg: Assisted suicide is not humanitarian

Another CDU member, Patrick Sensberg, presented a draft that sought to criminalize any sort of assisted suicide, arguing that "it is not a humanitarian deed to help a person kill themselves." He spoke of the personal burdens some doctors would have to bear if they were required to help any terminally ill patient who wanted their assistance committing suicide.

The only thing that all parties were able to agree on was the need to strengthen and spread the availability and services provided by hospices and palliative care wards in Germany.

The Bundestag is aiming to pass new legislation on assisted suicide by November this year.

es/msh (AFP, KNA)

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