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German parliament votes down assisted suicide proposals

Proposals to allow assisted suicide were voted down in Germany as politicians rejected two bids to create wide-ranging legal frameworks for those seeking an assisted suicide. 

In February 2020, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that the section of Germany’s criminal code outlawing “commercial promotion of assisted suicide” was unconstitutional. 

The section of the law that was ruled as unconstitutional was aimed at preventing groups or individuals from setting up businesses that provided assisted suicide in return for money. In practice, it meant a ban on providing any type of “recurring” assistance, which meant that assisted suicide ‘advice centres’ had stopped operating in Germany because of the risk of a jail sentence for promoting suicide. 

Although this legal ruling removed the risk of prosecution for assisted suicide ‘advice centres’, parliamentarians recently drafted laws to define how the practice should be regulated. 

The first bill, proposed by Social Democrat MP, Lars Castellucci, was rejected with 304 voting in favour and 363 against.

The second bill was also rejected with 287 voting in favour and 375 voting against.

Free Democrat MP Katrin Helling-Plahr brought forward the bill after tweeting that the 2020 court ruling permitted euthanasia “only on paper”.

Risk of suicide being turned into a business

Opponents remained concerned that assisted suicide would turn into a business, putting patients at risk. Eugen Brysch, chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, said “If organized assisted suicide has to be paid for, the self-determination of the person willing to die falls by the wayside”. 

Although both draft bills spoke of the need for counselling before making a decision, Brysch warned that “Even state-legitimized counseling centers cannot determine whether a decision has [been] reached … autonomously”.

Suicide prevention services receive support

Both bills were accompanied by a call for increased suicide prevention services, including a national helpline for anyone having suicidal thoughts as well as their friends and relatives. However, a recent study found that a 6.3% increase in non-assisted suicides is associated with the legalisation of physician-assisted suicide. 

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford examined data from states in the US and countries in Europe that have made euthanasia and assisted suicide legal. The data shows that following the practices being made legal, there have been significant increases, not only in the number of people who end their lives through assisted suicide and euthanasia, but also increases in instances of non-assisted suicide.

One in five cite loneliness as a reason to want to die

In 2021, 10,064 people ended their lives by assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada, an increase of over 32% from the previous year, accounting for 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.

According to the latest report on Medical Assistance in Dying from Health Canada, 17.3% of people also cited “isolation or loneliness” as a reason for wanting to die. In 35.7% of cases, patients believed that they were a “burden on family, friends or caregivers”.

Catherine Robinson, Right To Life UK spokesperson, said “It is heartening to see Germany’s parliament reject bills that allow assisted suicide in extremely permissive circumstances. It is difficult to understand why certain MPs desire to increase suicide prevention services alongside wide-ranging access to assisted suicide. 

By legalising assisted suicide for certain people while increasing suicide prevention services, society sends the message that only some lives are worth saving. Every person has inherent value and no life should be prematurely ended by suicide. Instead, societies and communities should offer comprehensive support to those feeling suicidal”.

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