Press Release 04/2015

Respecting people's cultural identity at the end of life – German Ethics Council in Istanbul

At a public meeting in Istanbul on Thursday, 26 March 2015, the German Ethics Council launched an intercultural exchange with Turkish researchers. The subject was ethical decisions at the end of life in an intercultural context. Considering the large percentage of patients of Turkish origin in Germany and a growing percentage of German-born patients being treated in Turkey, the German Ethics Council would like to contribute to a better mutual understanding and a culturally sensitive approach to end-of-life situations.

Cultural values play a vital part when there is the need of balancing between life-sustaining therapies and therapies aiming at relief of suffering. Patient treatment in intercultural situations can lead to ethical conflicts of interest and ethical conflicts in decision-making that may present special challenges for patients and their families, as well as physicians and carers. "People in an existentially momentous situation such as the imminent end of their life should be cared for in a way that suits their personal and social identity", emphasized Christiane Woopen, Chairwoman of the German Ethics Council.

Among the wide range of problematic situations are: providing information about grave diagnoses and infaust prognosis, ascertaining the futility of medical treatment, and considering differing views on the importance of personal and familial autonomy. In six lectures and a panel discussion, Turkish and German speakers presented the medical, legal and ethical aspects of the matter and went into more detail when it came to the issues of human dignity, patient autonomy, self-determination and the right to know – or not know.

With this in mind, the Turkish participants were especially interested in the part the German Ethics Council plays in the societal debate about bioethical issues in Germany and whether a similar body in Turkey could help promote the societal discussion. The speakers and panel participants were optimistic that this first encounter was the prelude to a more intensive bilateral exchange of views.

The programme for the event and the participant's speeches and discussion contributions are available here (in German).