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German Parliament approves assisted suicide for ‘altruistic’ reasons

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

BERLIN, November 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – After Germany passed a law Friday which permits assisted suicide for “altruistic” motives but not for “business” ones, at least one German “assisted suicide association” has signaled it will challenge the legislation.

The law allows someone to assist a suicide on an “individual basis out of altruistic motives,” but “criminalizes commercial euthanasia,” with assisting a suicide for “business” reasons an offence punishable by up to three years in prison, according to Reuters and AP reports.

Legislators voted 360-233 for the bill – the first assisted suicide legislation the German Parliament has ever passed – after considering four options. Two of these would have legalized it completely, and one banned it entirely, Reuters reports.

Supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bill has drawn criticism from both sides of the issue, and former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries predicted it will be appealed at the Constitutional Court.

According to AP, Zypries said the distinction between “altruistic” and “business” motives “will open an era of great legal uncertainty.” She added, “When does a doctor behave in a business fashion? That is unclear.”

Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says from what he’s seen of the legislation, it is almost identical to the Swiss law, which also allows assisted suicide for “basically altruistic reasons.”

But the law has led to the operation of Swiss “suicide clinics” run by organizations such as Dignitas, which attract an international clientele seeking to be euthanized.

Germany’s law may be an attempt to stop the operation of such clinics. “What they’re saying is if you break our rules, that’s a criminal act,” Schadenberg noted. “But they’ve in fact legalized assisted suicide per se.”

Moreover, he agrees the law will be challenged. “It looks to me that [the law] not defined well enough for it to actually have enough teeth.”

Indeed, “associations for assisted suicide” already exist in Germany and the “biggest” of these has announced it will cease operating “pending an appeal to Germany’s constitutional court,” reports Reuters.

Sterbehilfe Deutschland “organizes assisted suicides in Switzerland” and is one of several groups in Germany “that provide terminally ill patients with lethal medication” and that are “classed as clubs and charge membership fees,” it stated.

Up to now, there has been a legislative void in Germany around assisted suicide and euthanasia, a controversial issue in the country because of its historic connection to the Nazis.

During the operation of their clandestine euthanasia program, begun as a eugenic measure in 1939, the Nazis systematically murdered an estimated 200,000 mentally and physically disabled children and adults in institutions in Germany and its territories.

In fact, Germans avoid the word “euthanasia,” according to the Guardian, instead preferring to make distinctions between “assisted suicide” and “active assisted suicide.”

But no matter what they call it, “the fact is they’re opening the door,” Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews. “And once you’ve opened the door, then the question is how will you prevent it, knowing that nations have to treat people with equality.”  

Moreover, there is no telling how the law will develop, he emphasized, referring to Switzerland’s experience.

“The law in Switzerland does not say, ‘Oh, you can do assisted suicide in assisted suicide clinics.’ It says you cannot do assisted suicide other than for altruistic motives,” Schadenberg noted.

“How it develops in Germany becomes a question I can’t answer.”

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