Germany’s highest court rules in favour of assisted dying

The Bundesverwaltungsgericht, Germany’s highest administrative court

Germany’s federal supreme court for administrative and public law issues has handed down a judgment which says ‘a painless assisted death may not be denied in extreme circumstances’. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is the court of last resort for all public law matters and its ruling brings to an end a long legal saga which began when a paralysed woman afflicted by painful convulsions was denied access to drugs to enable a painless and dignified death in 2004. Though the woman subsequently travelled to Switzerland to end her life in 2006, her husband continued to pursue her case in the German courts following her death.

In the federal court’s press release, it summarised that a patient who is ‘seriously and incurably ill’ has a right to ‘decide how and at what point in time’ to end their life, provided they are acting of their own volition. In its ruling on 2 March, it overturned the previous judgments of lower courts by finding that the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) acted unlawfully in denying the plaintiff access to drugs to enable a painless, self-induced death. It found that there was an incompatibility between Germany’s Narcotic Drugs Act, which proscribes the acquisition of drugs to enable suicide, and a patient’s right to autonomy and self-determination. Consequently, BfArM was required in law to explore the possibility that they were faced with exceptional suffering when the request for assisted dying drugs was made. The court did not define what would constitute exceptional suffering, but did make the ruling in light of the above case.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘It’s welcome news that Germany’s highest court has upheld the basic right to autonomy over life and death for people in incurable and terminal conditions. In the UK, countless people in similar situations, afflicted with incurable suffering, have this essential right taken away. We will continue to campaign, through all possible means, for a fair and humane assisted dying settlement in the UK which gives suffering people with a fixed and uncoerced wish to end their lives the free choice to do so.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 07815589636.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.