The topic of euthanasia is highly controversial – and in Germany it is in a legal gray area. It is an unbearable impertinence that things will stay that way for the time being.
All of us had no control over our beginning. That we will be conceived, where we will be born, and whose child we will grow up to be – it is all a matter of chance. But the situation is different with the end of a human life.
While we all want to live as long as possible, there are good reasons why people can reach a point where suicide seems like the only way out. Progressive dementia, for example, or unbearable pain from severe, incurable cancer.
Furthermore, no clear laws on euthanasia
Unfortunately, there is still no political consensus as to when people who wish to die can legally gain access to deadly drugs and when others can support them with impunity. Although there is no clear legal regulation, the Bundestag could not agree on a reform of euthanasia on July 6th. This is an impertinence for those who want to end their lives because of unbearable suffering. It would have been high time that the legislature clarified the conditions under which we accept self-determined suicide as a society, actively support those affected in their desire and at the same time – as far as possible – prevent abuse.
Because for years, anyone who assists in suicide has been in a legal gray area. And that often means, even for people with an incurable, terminal illness, that deadly drugs are still very difficult to obtain legally.
The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court was a milestone
It was a good and important milestone when the Federal Constitutional Court declared the ban on “commercial euthanasia” to be unconstitutional in February 2020 and argued that the right to self-determined dying also includes the freedom “to seek help from third parties and to take advantage of help if it is offered”.
But as long as there are no clear laws on euthanasia, we will remain in a stressful state of limbo.
Liberal role models such as the Netherlands show that things could be done differently. There, since 2002, active euthanasia by a doctor has been exempt from punishment if certain medically confirmed requirements are met: On the one hand, the patient must voluntarily express their wish to kill themselves. The person must also be in a medically hopeless situation, be aware of this and refuse all other treatment options, including palliative ones.
No frivolous assisted suicide
Of course, a legal regulation must not lead to the fact that suicide assistance can also be used by depressed people who actually need psychological and psychiatric help. In the same way, older people in need of help should not be given the feeling that they should end their lives sooner rather than later so that they are no longer a burden to others.
The state must protect the life of every individual. This also includes supporting people who are willing to commit suicide with all reasonable means – such as therapy and talks – to ideally regain their will to live.
A dignified life includes a dignified death
However, if none of this changes the wish to die, these people must have the right to decide for themselves how and when they die.
“Human dignity is inviolable. Respecting and protecting it is the duty of all state power,” says Article 1 of the Basic Law. A life in dignity must also include the freedom to end one’s own existence in a dignified and self-determined manner.
This difficult last step should be carefree and safe to walk under clearly defined conditions. Because the last thing we should expect of a suffering person is a farewell in fear, loneliness and even more pain.