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  • 29 April 2019 : End-of-life debated in Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court

The German Federal Constitutional Court recently, in mid-April, addressed the issue of end-of-life. Since November 2015, new legislation had expressly banned medically assisted suicide. Paragraph 217 of the German Criminal Code, amended in 2015, specifies : “Any person who intends to help another commit suicide and, in a professional capacity, provides him or her with the opportunity to take action is subject to a maximum prison sentence of three years or a fine.” Professional suicide assistance is now punishable by up to three years in prison, with doctors and professionals from organised suicide assistance facing criminal prosecution. In 2017, though, in a stunning move, the Federal Administrative Court of Leipzig issued a ruling stating that “in exceptional cases, the State cannot prevent a patient from gaining access to anaesthetic products that would allow him to commit suicide in a dignified and pain-free manner.” Faced with the protests sparked by such a decision, particularly from the Catholic and Protestant churches, the federal government ultimately suspended its enforcement in 2018. Since 2015, political and judicial players have been divided, countering each other on the issue of assisted suicide. Doctors, patients and end-of-life care professionals, who believe that paragraph 217 of the Criminal Code violates Sections 1 and 2 of the German Basic Law on “intangible” respect for human “dignity”, have to wit appealed to the German Federal Constitutional Court, in the hopes of enabling incurable people wishing to abridge their suffering to do so with dignity. In a country where the number of people ages 65 or over represented 17.7 million people (i.e. 21.4% of the population) at the end of 2017, this is a sensitive subject that is facing, on the one hand, opposition from the Churches, who are in favour of an expansion of palliative care, and which is causing the ghosts of the past to resurface, as the Nazi regime used euthanasia to kill disabled people. The president of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, said at the opening of the proceedings : “The purpose is not to make a moral or political assessment of suicide and its impact on society ... but [to establish] the extent of the freedom limited by the threat of prosecution.” The decision of the Karlsruhe judges is not expected for several months.

See : Ärzte Zeitung, T.Online, L’Obs.

  • March 2014 : Modification to funeral legislation in Baden-Württemberg

The Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, a Land which numbers nearly 650,000 Muslims and is led by a Green Party minister-president and a coalition made up of Greens and SPD, has just passed in late March 2014 a law modifying funeral rites which will make it possible for Muslims to be buried in accordance with the requirements of their religion. There is no longer the obligation to use a coffin for funerals of Muslims - they can henceforth be buried in a simple shroud - nor the statutory 48 hour period between time of death and burial.
In spite of reservations by Christian Democrats who feared that this measure would open the floodgates to massive numbers of coffin-less burials, the law was passed unanimously by the four parliamentary groups represented in the regional parliament (Greens, SPD, CDU, FDP). Minister for integration Bilkay Öney (SPD) saw this amendment as taking into account religious diversity and making a contribution to the integration of Muslims.
This possibility exists in several other Länder (in Lower Saxony, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland) and the first Muslim cemetery is to be inaugurated in Wuppertal in 2014.

For further information : Bayern 2, Migazin, Stuttgarter Zeitung and Die Welt.

D 25 mai 2016    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

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