German parliament weighing four assisted suicide measures

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On Friday, the German parliament will debate four motions related to ending one’s own life, according to the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

Although euthanasia, the painless killing of another person suffering from a disease, is permitted in many other northern European nations, Germany currently forbids the practice.  Under German law, assisted suicide, in which a physician prescribes deadly medications, but the patient takes the final action himself, is permissible in certain circumstances.

The proposals to be considered by German legislators vary in scope – with some attempting to loosen current law and others attempting to tighten it.

Ulla Schmidt, a lawmaker from the Social Democrats party, has argued that the latest proposals before the parliament evoke painful memories of euthanasia’s role in Germany’s Nazi past, according to Deutsche Welle media. The Nazis are estimated to have euthanized approximately 20,000 mentally and physically disabled people whose lives were considered “unworthy” by the state.

A member of the Green party, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, has raised different concerns, saying that Germany should resist becoming a country that subtly pressures the elderly, the suffering, and the needy to end their own lives. Germany has one of the most rapidly aging populations on the globe, and has previously “exported” elderly persons to countries with lower costs (and lower standards) for retirement and rehabilitation.

On Monday, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, that country’s most prominent Jewish organization, issued a statement opposing any liberalization of current law.

The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) have also issued a statement declaring euthanasia  to be “a significant threat to the dignity of human life.”

The four motions up for debate offer different tiers of acceptance of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Germany, ranging from total prohibition of assisted suicide to a complete deregulation of it.

Because German law is currently hazy, doctors can prescribe deadly drugs to terminally ill patients, should they request it. German law currently does not allow doctors to prescribe barbiturates, which are often used for euthanasia in other countries, but the upcoming debates could change that.

Two motions offer more “middle of the road,” options, one allowing family members to facilitate assisted suicide under the stipulation that no business can profit from it, and one giving doctors the right to euthanize or to provide the means to commit suicide.