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Can the right to a self-determined death be invoked to escape a useless life in prison?

Kurt Knickmeier killed three people and has been in prison for 36 years. He wants a chance at dismissal – or die.

In 2020, the German constitutional court declared that the general right of personality, as laid down in the German constitution, includes a right to self-determined death. This right includes the freedom to commit suicide and to use the voluntary help of third parties. The decision taken by the individual in exercising this right to end his life in accordance with his understanding of the quality of life and the meaningfulness of his own existence must be respected as an act of autonomous self-determination by the state and society. 

Now, Knickmeier invokes this right to receive medication to take his own life if he has no chance of getting free in the foreseeable future.

When he asked the management of the institution for this medication, they refused: “It quickly became clear to us that we wouldn’t do that,” says Andreas Schüller, director of the institution. “We are there to give people a perspective, not to actively contribute to their end.”

The Regional Court of Kleve and the Higher Regional Court of Hamm have confirmed the opinion of the management of the institution. She doesn’t have to get Knickmeier any lethal medication. However, the Federal Constitutional Court has now referred the case back to the Regional Court due to formal errors.

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