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German doctors drop opposition to assisted suicide

At May 6, Germany’s doctors’ association deleted from its code of conduct a ban on the practice of assisted suicide. The German Medical Association (Bundesärztekammer) has amended the professional regulations for doctors. Clause 16 sentence 3 of the (model) professional code is repealed. It said: “They [doctors] are not allowed to provide assistance in suicide.” Now the regulations are consistent with a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in February last year.

According to the doctors’ day, however, the deletion does not change the fact that “medical action is characterized by a life- and health-oriented goal”. According to Paragraph 1(2) of the (model) professional code, it is the responsibility of doctors to preserve life, to protect and restore health, to alleviate suffering, to provide assistance to the dying and to contribute to the preservation of natural resources with regard to their importance for human health. Therefore, it is not part of the scope of the medical profession’s task to provide assistance for suicide. This was also emphasized by the Doctors’ Day in the light of the current debate in the German Bundestag on a statutory new regulation of euthanasia. It could never be the task of the medical profession to carry out an indication, counselling or even execution of a wish to die for non-sick people.

Meanwhile, the Bundestag faces the same problem as the German doctors – it has to draft laws consistent with the Court’s ruling. It has been debating three proposals, two permitting assisted suicide and one making it extremely difficult. The Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, wants strict limits on assisted suicide. He is proposing that assisting suicide should be a criminal offense, but with exceptions like medical education, the involvement of non-profit advisory organizations and waiting periods. He wants a ban on advertising for assisted suicide. The hurdles should remain “very, very high,” says Spahn.

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