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Legal situation

In short

Active euthanasia – the killing of a patient at his request – is forbidden and, due to the World War II, not subject to debate in Germany. Assisting in suicide is allowed when done by an individual but prohibited when it is done by an organisation that has the intention to organise repeatedly assisted suicide, as a profession. In 2020 the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) declared the German ban on professional assisted suicide unconstitutional. Terminating treatment for incurable patients, with the focus on suppressing pain and not ending the life is allowed in Germany.

Penal Code

Euthanasia in Germany is regarded as manslaughter, based on article 216 of the German Criminal code, and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. In 2015, a new article was added to the Criminal Code. This article 217 prohibits assisted suicide when it is done by an organisation that has the intention to organise repeatedly assisted suicide, as a profession. It can lead to up three years of imprisonment. Individual assistance stays not punishable. 

Bundesverfassungsgericht (2020)

On Wednesday February 26, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in Karlsruhe declared the German ban on assisted suicide (that exists since 2015) unconstitutional. This is a great victory for the people who brought this ban to court, among others: seriously ill patients and doctors.

The 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. With this reasoning, the court decided that the prohibition on business-related promotion of suicide, which was laid down in Section 217 of the Criminal Code (StGB), violates the Constitution, because it virtually depletes the possibilities of assisted suicide. It does not follow from this that this kind of legislation is always unconstitutional. However, the legislator must ensure that the right of the individual to end his life in a self-determined manner has sufficient space to be used and developed.

Latest news

Jane Barett

DGHS publishes Newsletter 2023-04

The German RtD Society DGHS (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Humanes Sterben) published its Newsletter 2023-04. Read the Newsletter below in English and German.