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German Ethics Council speaks up: a blow to a cross-party initiative

Council members agreed with the Federal Medical Council (Bundesärztekammer) that doctors should not routinely be asked to help patients commit suicide. But they argued that in “exceptional circumstances”, decisions of conscience by a doctor in the context of a “trusting doctor-patient relationship” should be respected.  The decision is a blow to a cross-party initiative to legalize the practice put forward by Bundestag vice-president Peter Hintze of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) deputy leader Carola Reimann.

“Terminally ill people must have the right to ask their doctor to help end their life in hopeless situations”, the politicians said on Friday.  “It remains a free decision up to the doctor’s conscience whether he goes along with these wishes”.

Hintze and Reimann say that their bill, scheduled for a debate in February, is aimed at giving doctors more certainty about the possible legal consequences of helping a patient to end their life. But Eugen Breisch, president of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, said that the MPs “are twisting the recommendations of the Ethics Council in their favour”.

And Pallative Foundation spokesman Thomas Sitte said that “dying cannot be normalized… we doctors have a special duty and responsibility for life. “The highest court for our behaviour is our own conscience”.