Ethics Council plans recommendation on assisted suicide

At its public plenary meeting on 27 November, the German Ethics Council addressed the topic of assisted suicide and plans to issue a recommendation on the basis of this discussion.

Council members' presentations and the discussions that followed focused on the ethical and legal issues surrounding the concepts of dignity, autonomy and self-determination; the perspectives of palliative medicine and suicide prevention; the mandate of physicians as viewed by themselves and others; the special role of assisted suicide organizations; and possible avenues of judicial regulation and their implications.

In the final presentation, Council Chair Christiane Woopen reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of all possible approaches to legal regulation. This analysis showed that there is no completely satisfactory legislative solution, but only a best possible solution if an affirmation of life, self-determination, solidarity and the integrity of the medical profession are all to be taken into account. In the weighing of these values, the legislature must consider the different beliefs within society.

Council members were united in their assessment of current law as being sufficient. With regards to organized offers of assisted suicide, in particular commercial organizations, members saw a number of serious problems and dangers concerning situations in which self-determination is difficult to establish. In the event of a legal regulation of assisted suicide, Council members discussed the problem of finding constructive and practicable solutions that allow the intimate act of dying to remain in the private sphere and that protect the sensitive doctor-patient relationship from intrusion of the law.

There was also consensus that physician-assisted suicide should be possible as a matter of conscience in individual cases without being either a regular practice of the medical profession or a physician's duty. The Ethics Council finds the current non-uniform medical codes of conduct to be problematic. It is important to account for both physicians' responsibility and their freedom of conscience.

The German Ethics Council resolved to draft an ad hoc recommendation on assisted suicide to be adopted at its December meeting.

The presentations of the meeting are available to listen to and read here (in German).