BERLIN (JTA) – Proposals to change Germany’s euthanasia law have drawn strong warnings from Germany’s main Jewish organization.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany said Monday that there must be no liberalization of assisted suicide in the country.
Euthanasia is a particularly sensitive topic in Germany, as an estimated 200,000 people – most of them mentally and physically handicapped – were murdered in the Nazi “euthanasia” program, their lives considered “unworthy” by the state.
On Friday the Bundestag is to consider possible changes to the euthanasia law, which is particularly strict in cases of assisted suicide.
Doctors are allowed to hasten death for a dying patient by providing high doses of pain medication or withdrawing treatments that sustain life, if the patient has expressed a wish for this treatment. But it is illegal to provide a patient with the means for suicide and then fail to alert emergency medical services once the person is dying.
On the table are various proposals – some to loosen and others to toughen the law.
“Seriously ill and elderly people should not be pushed to commit suicide,” Central Council President Josef Schuster, a physician and member of the Central Ethics Committee of the German Medical Association, said in a statement.
Schuster expressed particular concern about two proposals from groups of legislators. One would allow a terminally ill adult who is capable of making decisions to enlist a doctor to provide the means for suicide, at the time and place of the patient’s choosing.
Under current law, if a person wishing to die has swallowed pills provided by a second person, the assisting person must immediately call for emergency medical help or face up to a year in jail.
Another proposal on the table would provide a legal framework for associations dedicated to assisted suicide under specific conditions.
Both have raised alarm bells for Schuster.
“Assisted suicide must not become a regular service provided by doctors, an alternative to care for the dying,” he said, urging more support for palliative and hospice care for the dying.
German President Joachim Gauck also recently praised his country’s volunteer hospice movement without commenting directly on the upcoming Bundestag debate.