The German Constitutional Court is about to issue a decision on assisted suicide on Wednesday, a delicate issue in a country where the Catholic Church, which is fiercely opposed to it, remains influential.
For four years, contradictory signals have been sent on this subject, making illegible what is allowed or not.
It is not “a moral or political assessment of suicide and its impact on society (…) but (to define) the extent of freedom, limited by the threat of prosecution”, explained in April at the opening of the proceedings the President of the Court, Andreas Vosskuhle.
The question is sensitive in a country where the elderly are more and more numerous, but also where the specter of Nazism continues to float, the Third Reich having largely resorted to euthanasia against the handicapped.
In 2015, the Bundestag, after passionate discussions, had banned “organized” suicide assistance, punishable by three years in prison, as well as the promotion of assisted suicide.
But two years later, the Leipzig Administrative Court, Germany’s highest administrative court, had issued a surprise decision: the judges had considered that “in exceptional cases, the State cannot prevent a patient’s access to anesthetic products that would allow him to commit suicide with dignity and without pain. “
– Three conditions –
This court had been seized by the husband of a woman completely paralyzed in 2002 by an accident and who had to go to Switzerland to benefit from an assisted suicide in 2005.
The judges had ruled in favor of the husband, fixing three conditions: that the patient’s suffering was unbearable, that the decision to die was made freely and that there was no reasonable alternative.
But on ministerial instruction, the Federal Institute of Medicines has since rejected all requests in the name of the 2015 law, effectively blocking the application of this decision, explains the DPA agency.
Seized by German and Swiss associations of assisted suicide, doctors or patients, it is, therefore, the turn of the eight judges of the Constitutional Court to deliver their judgment on Wednesday.
The applicants submit that the current legislation violates Articles 1 and 2 of the German Basic Law on “intangible” respect for human “dignity”.
Suicide is not an offense under German law, doctors and relatives also want increased legal certainty in the support of patients, especially in the event of treatment discontinuation leading to death.
– European disparities –
Conversely, the president of the German Medical Association (Bundesarztekammer) spoke against the legalization of euthanasia.
“As doctors, we must be clear that we are at the bedside of patients as assistants, as healers and not as killers,” Frank Ulrich Montgomery said in April.
The Catholic Church put pressure on the judges of Karlsruhe. The Archbishop of Berlin, Archbishop Heiner Koch, warned at the start of the proceedings against any “change in the value system” by the Court and said he hoped “a strong signal for the protection of life”.
On the other hand, medical assistance at the end of life is supported by more than eight out of ten Germans (81%), according to an Infratest-dimap survey.
On this subject, disparities persist between European countries. Three have legalized euthanasia: the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
Others, such as Switzerland, France, the Scandinavian countries or even Great Britain, Spain or Portugal tolerate them a form of assisted death, with the administration of painkillers resulting in shortening the life of an incurable patient.
Countries with a strong Catholic tradition, such as Ireland or Poland, remain resistant to all aid to death. In Italy, on the other hand, the Constitutional Court decriminalized assisted suicide in September.