Friday, June 25, 2010

Assisted dying OK in Germany under certain circumstances

Imagine my surprise when I read in today's paper about a judgment from Germany's Federal Court in an assisted dying case. Just so you get the significance of this, here's a blurb from Wikipedia about the relevance of the Federal Court in Germany's legal pecking order: 'The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) is the highest court in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law. A decision handed down by the BGH can only be reversed by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in rare cases when the Constitutional Court rules on constitutionality (compatibility with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany).'

So, today said court ruled that if someone competent has decided they wish to die, even if the nature of their illness does not suggest that their dying process has begun, whoever removes pro-actively their means of life-support has not broken German law. Further, in the case of unconscious patients the patients' likely intention is considered sufficient to make the removal of life support systems legal. In the case under consideration a reportedly a woman who had been in persistent vegetative state for 5 years had her means of life support terminated by her daughter based on the patient's expressed wishes. Part of the problem was that her wishes were only expressed verbally to her daughter prior to her coma, hence no written advance directive existed. The patient had no chance of an improvement of her clinical situation. I wonder whether different circumstances might have changed the verdict or whether this really suggests that self-determination takes priority over the purported sanctity of life in German law.

This, of course, is terrible news for those God people who believe that we are not entitled to make respect demanding decisions about how we wish to die.


  1. As far as I can tell from reading the English language press reports
    (and Iain Brassington's BMJ blog, this
    case is about refusing medical treatment, not about assisted dying.
    They are different ethical issues.

    And the distinction has practical importance, because refusing
    medical treatment is a far easier fight to win than is assisted
    dying. Not to mention which the anti-euthanasia folks are always
    trying to claim that refusing medical treatment is assisted dying
    and should not be allowed.

    The June 14th NYT piece on turning off a pacemaker
    illustrates this.

    Michael Dawson, editor@euthanewsia

  2. Yes Michael, you're correct, except to say that LITERALLY this woman's death would have been assisted by her daughter's action, namely to terminate life support. She was reportedly in persistent vegetative state, so could not consent or request, and all there was was the daughter's word that that is what her mum would have wanted.


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