German lawmakers reject regulating assisted suicide but back prevention efforts

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BERLIN (OSV News) — Assisted suicide remains a legal gray area in Germany after the German parliament July 6 voted down two draft laws aimed at creating a legal framework for it, the KNA news agency reported.

An overwhelming majority of members of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, backed measures to strengthen prevention.

Regulating suicide, assisted suicide

In principle, suicide is not prohibited in Germany, nor is assisted suicide. However, the draft bills by two groups of members of parliament, or MPs, from different parties wanted to define more precisely who may be prescribed a lethal drug under which circumstances and to protect vulnerable groups from abuses of the system.

The Bundestag first rejected a draft that would have made organized assisted suicide a punishable offense again in principle, but would have allowed exceptions in certain circumstances. The competing draft bill submitted by the other group of MPs was aimed at legally enshrining the right to a self-determined death and to provide assistance for people who wanted to end their lives. This was clearly rejected, KNA reported.

A joint motion adopted by both groups of MPs to strengthen suicide prevention points out that a total of 9,215 people took their own lives in 2021. It calls on the government to present a draft law and a strategy for suicide prevention within a year from now.

The motion also demanded that people with suicidal thoughts and their relatives should be able to get in touch with trained counselors around the clock, both online and through a single nationwide telephone number. Furthermore, it said, research should be expanded.

An ongoing debate

The rejected bills were a reaction to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2020 that overturned a 2015 ban on organized medically assisted suicide and declared there was a fundamental right to self-determined dying — regardless of age, illness or individual reason.

For this purpose, the person wanting to die also could call on the help of third parties, the court ruled. At the same time, the judges recommended that parliament adopt a system to protect people.

According to KNA, in the run-up to the ruling, the medical profession, churches and many interest groups had urged that suicide prevention be strengthened, especially since the vast majority of suicides were caused by illnesses such as depression or emotional distress.

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