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German parliament votes to ban ‘commercial’ assisted suicides

MPs in Germany have passed a new law punishing people assisting suicides with up to three years imprisonment if done in a commercial or business like way – even if doctors perform the procedure to relieve suffering. The bill, which was upheld with 360 out of 602 votes, criminalizes organizations that assist patients in terminating their own lives for profit.

It is meant to prevent the commercialization of the procedure as a “suicide business”. What exactly “commercial” (“geschäftsmäßig” in German) means is open to interpretation. However, single instances of suicide assistance – by a doctor or relative – do not contradict the new law. A husband who helps his terminally ill wife to die would not be prosecuted. Still, the law has raised concerns among its opponents.

“A punishment of commercial euthanasia would expose doctors to the severe risk of legal investigations,” said Renate Kuenast, a member of the Green Party and initiator of one of the bills in favor of legalizing assisted suicide. The bill has also been criticized by suicide assistance organizations which want to appeal the matter to the German constitutional court.

Adoption of the law followed heated debates in the German parliament. In Germany the word “euthanasia” is not used for actively killing someone following their request. The word is discredited by killings of disabled patients under Nazi rule. The discussion was only on assisting someone to perform suicide which has not been criminalized before. At least four draft bills regulating or banning assisted suicide were proposed by cross-party parliamentary groups.  

Active euthanasia – killing of a patient at their request – is not subject to debate in Germany. It is regarded as manslaughter and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. Only terminating treatment for incurable patients, with the focus on suppressing pain and not ending the life has been allowed and still is.