Incest Prohibition

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Published: 24 September 2014

Incest, commonly referred to as the sexual intercourse between close relatives, is categorically prohibited by German penal code under § 173 StGB. In wake of a dismissed appeal against a 2008 ruling of the Bundesverfassungsgericht the German Ethics Council evaluates, if, based on ethical reasons, a revision of the current legal situation on the grounds of Ethics is advisable.

With this Opinion, the German Ethics Council paves the way for an open and unprejudiced discussion of the juridical and ethical issues that come up in the context of close-relative relationships. It leaves out the aspects of abuse, coercion or rape and solely focuses on the consensual coitus between adults. Particular attention is given the case of sexual contact between (half) siblings that share a family unit and bonds lived in practice no longer exist – a possible aftermath of a divorce or sperm donation for example.

The Opinion outlines key points for the critical and ethical evaluation of the current legal situation and basis its evaluation on the careful weighing between clashing fundamental values. Particularly controversial was here the question of, how the right of sexual autonomy relates to the obligation to protect family structures. The German Ethics Council could not find a unambiguous consensus to this matter. In the end, the majority would weigh the fundamental right of sexual autonomy higher, while the minority sees the protection of family as an entity as a priority and wants to uphold the present prohibition.