Ethics Council Chair calls for a new attempt to regulate euthanasia


Status: 06.07.2023 17:02

The Chair of the Ethics Council advocates the search for a new draft for the legal regulation of euthanasia. Legal certainty is important for those affected, says Alena Buyx. But more suicide prevention is needed. Both motions missed the majority – is this a good day or a bad day?

Alena Buyx: For some like that, for others like that. I would say mixed. I was pleased that there was an application for suicide prevention that received a lot of approval. And as far as the failed proposals are concerned, it is of course always a bit unfortunate when a clear decision is not reached. I would wish that there would be a new serve.

Alena Buyx, Chair of the German Ethics Council

Alena Buyx is a German medical ethicist and university lecturer. She has been Chair of the German Ethics Council since 2020.

those affected want legal certainty What does this mean for those affected?

Buyx: That’s exactly the point. There are also good arguments for saying that euthanasia could be left unregulated. There are colleagues who have argued that none of the laws will be passed and that euthanasia be left open and that it be shaped by the medical profession, for example.

However, we know that those affected very often want legal certainty and clear guidelines. And these are not just the patients, but also the facilities and doctors who may then be asked about such a step. That’s why I personally vote for a compromise to be sought again.

New proposals should bring clarity You often hear that doctors find themselves in a gray area. Before they do something wrong, they prefer to say no. How can you help them?

Buyx: There are two concerns. Firstly, the concern that those who want to make use of their right to a self-determined life and the right to get help and do not have this opportunity. On the other hand, there is concern that abuse may happen and people will be pushed if there are no legal regulations or protection concepts. Both are bad.

Accordingly, there should now be new proposals that prevent both. On the one hand, it will be about having good consulting concepts. How complex should the consultation be? Who should give this advice? Should there be a waiting period or not? Should there be multiple appointments or not? And there were clearly different proposals. And the second will also be whether the whole thing should be included in the penal code or not? That was another sticking point.

Personally, I would advocate speaking to the experts in this area again. Experts have certainly criticized the drafts. This means that the drafts can be further developed and maybe there will be a way, to put it mildly, so that both groups, which have discussed very seriously, can still find a little bit of each other and possibly even find a consensus draft.

“Longer, more diverse Process” The Ethics Council also submitted an opinion. It was also about suicide prevention.

Buyx: We have pointed out two things very intensively. When talking about assisted suicide, support and accompaniment during suicide, it is important to simultaneously and intensively look at suicide prevention. It is a long, multifaceted process before suicide occurs. And in many places you can help and support people – there really is still a long way to go.

The second is that we also paid particular attention to what the Federal Constitutional Court said. In order for a suicide to actually be permissible, the decision to do so must be freely responsible. There are various conditions that should be taken into account. And that’s why careful, mandatory advice for those who want it should be designed really well and also in a practical way.

suicide prevention important Nurses often report that in the most common cases, the statement that they want to die is a cry for help and not a request?

Buyx: It’s really about that. We all want to avoid suicide as a society. A suicide is a tragic event and there are people who choose this path for themselves. If this happens freely and independently, it must be respected in any case. And then there should also be support for it.

In many cases it is the case that such a suicidal wish is not simply there from zero to one hundred, but that these are developments and that people can be helped in many places. In many cases it is then also the case that the wish to die subsides.

That is why we in the Ethics Council have placed so much emphasis on the fact that extensive, comprehensive, low-threshold suicide prevention is very important. This can then be combined with help and accompaniment for those who want to die. And these people have the right to go to their deaths in a self-determined manner and with support. But that has to be an overall concept. You have to take the issue seriously, which is a major social challenge.

Helpful to look at other countries We always look to the Netherlands, for example, or to Switzerland, where there is help for suicide. Is that a solution for us in Germany?

Buyx: It is helpful to look at the regulations in other countries. The concern often arises that if euthanasia is regulated, the numbers will skyrocket. This is actually different in the countries. In Switzerland, for example, the numbers have not increased. In Belgium, on the other hand, there are certain increases, with the numbers not going through the roof now.

Ultimately, it’s about finding a regulation that works for Germany, the German population and also our German debate. The topic has been occupying the German public, and not just the experts, for a long time and intensively. And that, in my view, is something very positive that can be said about today’s debate, but also about earlier debates in the Bundestag.

There is a really serious struggle over different attitudes about how self-determination is to be respected and how it is to be implemented. As much as many will be a little disappointed in practice today, this is now also an opportunity to sit down together again and to make another attempt on the basis of these intensive debates.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor of tagesschau. It has been edited and abridged for the written version.

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