In Germany, the purchase of potentially lethal substances is prohibited. However, on Thursday 2 March 2017, Leipzig Federal Administrative Court deemed that, in some extreme circumstances, people should be legally entitled to terminate their lives. The Court held in favour of “a law authorising a patient suffering from an incurable disease to decide how and when his/her life should end” provided that the patient “can freely express his/her wishes and take the necessary action”. For the Court, the right to self-determination implies exceptions in extreme cases: “if, due to their intolerable situation, they have freely and seriously decided to end their lives”, provided that there are no palliative medical alternatives.
The Court made its decision after years of legal battles fought by the widow of a woman who turned to assisted suicide in Switzerland when the Federal Institute of Drugs and Medical Devices did not allow her to purchase a lethal solution.
The German Foundation for the Protection of Patients announced that the judgment was “a blow to the prevention of suicide in Germany”. Eugen Brysch, Council Member, declared that definition of the pain/suffering intolerance threshold “remained open to discussion”. Suffering “cannot be measured objectively or universally defined from a legal perspective”.
In 2015, German Parliament banned any form of organised or commercial assistance for suicide. Family members or close friends are exempt from prosecution in cases of assisted suicide (see Germany – the Bundestag (German Parliament) explicitly authorises assisted suicide and German MPs pass judgment on assisted suicide today). The draft bill sought “to strike a balance” between prosecution on those who assist in suicide and total deregulation of the process in a country where euthanasia is a difficult subject for historical reasons related to Nazism.