Assisted suicide / Sterbehilfe

The topic of assisted suicide has been in the news in Germany, Britain and the USA all at the same time.

The following remarks are intended to introduce material from Britain and the USA to assist the debate.

The Swiss organization Dignitas has set up in Germany. On German TV I heard that the Germans immediately think of euthanasia in this connection, but euthanasia has ‘a bad reputation’ in Germany (it’s a euphemism for the gas chambers). And discussions in the media on assisted suicide seem to concentrate on saying that ‘we must improve palliative medicine’ and ‘doctors must be more prepared to provide morphium to the terminally ill’, but to avoid the main issue.

Since the debate isn’t really getting down to brass tacks, I would like to recommend the transcript of the House of Lords debate.

Lord Joffe, a cross-bench (no party affilitation) peer, was going to introduce a private member’s bill, the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. Following research and the debate, the bill will be revised. Anyone who wants to read the House of Lords doing its best work might be interested in the debate. The Commons will not introduce such a bill because it isn’t of party-political interest.

BBC article

Hansard transcript: the debate began in the afternoon (3.9 p.m.), there was a break for something else and then it continued to midnight. Navigation at top of page. Table of contents for October 10 2005.

bq. Baroness Jay of Paddington:
The experience of Oregon shows that far more people ask for a lethal prescription than actually use it. For many, it is seen as a comforting insurance policy against unbearable suffering. Most importantly, it gives the patient ultimate personal control over when and how they die—over the end-of-life decision. In our very civilised secular society, I do not believe that we can deny that final right to our citizens.

The House of Lords committee investigated the situation in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon. Their report is available on the Internet (introduction, three PDF files). This is a source for evidence on the topic. The first file, for instance, describes the situation in Oregon. In 1994, a law was introduced allowing terminally ill adults to have a prescription in case they needed it. There were numbers of people who never used the prescription but died of natural causes.

The first U.S. Supreme Court case presided over by Chief Justice Roberts, Gonzales v. Oregon, deals with this issue. Here is a transcript of the argument.

International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide with further links.

Back to the House of Lords:

bq. Lord Joffe:
Much of the passionate opposition to this Bill is based on religious beliefs. I naturally respect the religious beliefs of those who express or share those beliefs, although I should add that public opinion surveys show that a massive majority of both Protestants and Catholics do not share the views of their religious leaders on this issue. The question that arises is whether a relatively small minority of society has the right to impose its beliefs on members of society who do not share them. In contrast, this Bill does not seek to impose anything on anybody. It simply provides another end-of-life option which terminally ill patients can accept or disregard as they choose.

That would be my fear in Germany – that the field is being left open to various pressure groups using emotional arguments.

Numerous entries in Handakte WebLAWg give links on the topic.

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