In his judgment of 26 February 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court declared that the prohibition of assisted suicide services set out in § 217 of the Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch – StGB) violates the Basic Law. This judgement provoked intense debate among experts and a broader politically interested public. Critics of the judgement fear, among other things, a neglect of the duty to protect life, arguing that the wish to commit suicide usually is not based on a truly free decision. Taking up these concerns, the German Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, has asked experts from the fields of medicine and law as well as representatives of churches and associations to comment on how, in the context of suicide assistance, a new “legislative protection concept” could particularly ensure the voluntariness, seriousness and consistency of a wish to die.
The German Ethics Council has already addressed the issue of suicide assistance in 2014 and 2017. In the light of the current judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court and a possible new regulation, the Council would like to contribute to a differentiated debate.
In a public Plenary Meeting, controversies as well as consensus concerning the medical-psychological assessment, ethical evaluation and legal interpretation of a “right to commit suicide” were highlighted. Based on different interpretations of essential concepts such as freedom, autonomy and self-determination, the conditions under which a suicide is to be considered a voluntary act were discussed and the question was raised as to how this can be operationalized. The lectures focussed on the issue of decision-making ability and its consistency as well as on the influence of social factors.
A further event on the “Phenomenology of Death and Suicide Wishes” took place on 17 December 2020.