Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court strikes down euthanasia ban

The members of the German Federal Constitutional Court's second senate, (L-R) judges Christine Langenfeld, Doris Koenig, Monika Hermanns, Sibylle Kessal-Wulf, presiding judge Andreas Vosskuhle, Peter M. Huber, Johannes Masing, and Ulrich Maidowskie, during the court's session in Karlsruhe, Germany, 26 February 2020. EPA-EFE/THORSTEN WAGNER

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Germany’s highest court has overturned a section of the criminal code forbidding assisted suicide. Many terminally ill patients and medical professionals had fought to see the law scrapped.

Paragraph 217 of Germany’s criminal code had prohibited assisted suicide. The law was adopted in 2015 by Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, to prevent associations or individuals from turning suicide into a kind of business.

Specifically, the law states that “anyone who, with the intention of assisting another person to commit suicide, provides, procures or arranges the opportunity for that person to do so and whose actions are intended as a recurring pursuit incurs a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or a fine.”

Legal experts have since hotly debated whether the law also criminalizes consultations — or merely mentioning, for example, that one may end one’s life by foregoing food.

The country‘s top court on 26 February ruled that paragraph 217 is incompatible with the constitution, making assisted suicide once more possible in Germany, as it previously was. Doctors would again be permitted to counsel patients about this option and provide them with lethal drugs, yet not administer them.

The court found that individuals have a right to “self-determined” suicide, including the freedom to take one’s own life and to enlist
commercial services provided by third parties.

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