Friday, June 19, 2009

Germany's Parliament on Advance Directives

To the surprise of many observers (given the still predominantly Christian culture in the country) the German parliament has resolved that patients' advance directives are legally binding. Doctors or other health care professionals who choose to ignore them will in future be prosecuted on grounds of having committed bodily assault. What is significant in a positive way is that such advance directives do not require that the patient in question suffers from a terminal illness. It's a bit odd, to my mind, that patients do not need to get doctors' advice on the substance of the advance directive (so as to ensure that their document really covers what they think it covers).

Of course, advance directives only kick in in circumstances where the patient is unable to express his or her own wishes, that's why they are needed in advance of a certain health problem that renders a patient for instance comatose. Doctors will have to ascertain whether or not the situation that the patient finds him- or herself in is covered by the advance directive. In case there's a conflict between the executors of the patients' wishes and the attending health care professionals' considered opinion, a court of law has to make the call on the advance directive. At this point in tome about 8 million adult Germans have issued legally binding advance directives. For the first time in German legal history these advance directives have legal bite, so to speak.

The German Catholic bishops have since raised 'concerns', as they usually tend to do when people make up their own minds about how they'd like to live and die.

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