German doctors accept assisted suicide


Central Europe


Picture RD, Alex van Pijkeren

The German Medical Association (GMA) has accepted physician-assisted suicide. The congress of the GMA has changed the professional code of conduct during their annual meeting on Wednesday.

German media have reported this. The decision was taken with a clear majority of the delegates in the so-called Deutscher Ärztetag (200 votes in favour, 8 votes against). Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are seen as taboo in Germany, because of the history of the Holocaust.

Until this week the code of conduct said: The doctor may not assist in suicide. That line was stricken by the members. The GMA represents 400,000 medical professionals.

But the German news program Tagesschau stresses that the GMA’s president Klaus Reinhardt still says that “assisting suicide is not a medical task.” This implies that no one can be obliged to assist in this. But a doctor can help a patient if his conscience allows him to do that. “No claim to be assisted by a doctor in a suicide attempt can be derived from the right of the individual”, the delegates wrote. It is quite normal that the doctor is the first to be asked to assist in a suicide attempt, writes the Catholic news site Domradio.

According to Tagesschau, the decision was preceded by a three-hour debate in which the struggle of the professionals became clear.

The German medical profession has followed the Federal Constitutional Court’s ruling on assisted suicide last year. In that decision, the court said that the ban on commercial assisted suicide could no longer be seen as legal. On the contrary, the decision about one’s own end of life should be seen as an expression of one’s self-determination in which the person has a right to the assistance of third parties. According to the judges in Karlsruhe, this is different from killing on demand.

The judges derived from the constitution a comprehensive right to self-determined dying, regardless of whether it concerns the terminally ill, those who are tired of life or those suffering from lovesickness. The suicidal person should not have to justify himself, explained the Catholic radio station Domradio. At the same time, however, the state should ensure that the decision is based on “free will”. The state has the obligation not to make assisted suicide “every day’s standard in society”, according to Karlsruhe.

In 2011 the GMA had made the rule that says that a medic “may not assist in suicide”. According to the court, this is no longer constitutional. If all doctors were prohibited from assisting suicide, this would create a demand for suicide clubs or commercial organisations.

In assisted suicide, a person willing to die is given lethal means. This is to be distinguished from euthanasia, which is killing on demand. That is still forbidden in Germany. The German Bundestag is still discussing whether a new law is necessary after the court’s ruling last year. A few weeks ago the GMA’s journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt wrote that the first proposals for this could come before the general elections in September 2021.

According to Ärzteblatt, 75 per cent of the populations supports a liberal revision of the laws regarding assisted suicide.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.