Aid to suicide allowed in future?



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Active euthanasia prohibited - aid to suicide allowed?

Euthanasia is still an extremely controversial topic. Although doctors are generally not allowed to provide active euthanasia, the Federal Medical Association no longer considers the aid to suicide to be fundamentally unethical. This means that there is no legal basis for the so-called euthanasia, but in the future doctors will no longer have to answer automatically to the Federal Medical Association for violations of the ethical principles. "When doctors are at peace with themselves, we don't break the baton on them," commented Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe, President of the Medical Association, on Thursday in Berlin about the revision of the principles on euthanasia.

Aid for suicide will no longer be unethical euthanasia, in the sense of aids for suicide of terminally ill patients, will no longer be generally assessed by the German Medical Association as unethical in future, but only as "no medical task". For example, the German Medical Association has opened a back door to doctors for individual cases in which they consider the “aid to suicide” to be ethically justifiable. So far, the new wording only affects the guidance "Principles of the Federal Medical Association on Medical Care for the Death" and has no legal force, but it expresses a changed attitude, in which the aid to suicide is no longer excluded in principle. The medical professional code, which practically forms the legal basis for doctors, continues to prohibit assisted suicide for the time being in addition to active euthanasia, but the Federal Medical Association is planning a revision that could be decided on at the German Medical Day in Kiel at the end of May. The current adjustments to the orientation guide will most likely form the basis of the future regulation. In plain language: active euthanasia remains prohibited, but "assisted suicide" may be permitted.

Active euthanasia continues to be banned and punishable With the new wording, the German Medical Association is trying to do justice to the problem of terminally ill patients who ask their doctors to quickly die or to refrain from taking medical measures to rescue them. As an example, doctor president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe cited the case of a doctor who did nothing after discovering that his terminally ill patient had taken a large amount of sleeping pills to commit suicide. According to the president of the physician, this procedure will be covered by the new wording in future, but active euthanasia remains fundamentally prohibited. "The killing of the patient, on the other hand, is punishable, even if it is carried out at the patient's request," says the wording in the "Principles of the Federal Medical Association on Medical Care for the Death".

Jurisprudence on euthanasia After the suicide of cancer doctor Mechthild Bach in January 2010, the discussion about euthanasia has boiled up again. The doctor from Hanover had to answer for the suspected killing of 13 patients in Germany's best-known euthanasia process, but always emphasized that she had never used any life-shortening measures for the patients. The cancer doctor committed suicide at the end of January after an interim assessment by the Hanover Regional Court, in which the defendant's assessment was relatively poor. This ended the process from which doctors and those affected had hoped for clarification on the legal assessment of euthanasia. Legislation has been trying for years to develop a regulation in the interests of those affected and most recently, in a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice (file number: Bundesgerichtshof 2 StR 454/09) from June 2010, strengthened the patient's right to self-determination.

Euthanasia regulation should take patient rights into account In its judgment, the Federal Court of Justice emphasized that the patient's consent (with full consciousness) justifies refraining from further life-supporting measures as well as the active termination or prevention of medical treatment that is not or no longer desired by the patient . This also applies to patients who, in a living will or in an oral statement, determined the cessation of life-supporting measures before they fell into a state that was no longer compatible. With the adjustment of the wording in the principles of medical care for the elderly, the German Medical Association has now taken the first steps to transfer the newer case law in the interests of patients and the treating physicians into practice. So far, the wishes of their patients have often been a considerable moral dilemma for doctors. They would like to help, but their hands are legally bound. In the past year, a survey has shown that every third doctor has been asked for help with suicide and that 30 percent of the doctors surveyed would like a regulation that allows such aid.

For the first time, principles include the “veto right” of terminally ill children. The German Medical Association has also devoted a chapter for the first time explicitly to the care of seriously ill and dying children when reformulating the guidance on dying. On the basis of the new regulation, these should “be included in the decisions affecting them regularly and according to their level of development”. If the minors have reached an age at which they are able to understand and assess the importance and scope of medical measures, they too have a “veto right”, according to the new wording in the principles of medical care for the elderly. If the will of a young person contradicts that of his parents, a family court must decide in case of doubt, the Federal Medical Association said. (fp)

Read about euthanasia:
Outrage at euthanasia clinic
Palliative medicine: doctors decide about death
Every third doctor is open to euthanasia
Ex-Justice Senator Kusch founds euthanasia e.V.

Image: Jetti Kuhlemann / pixelio.de

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