While the UK Parliament overwhelmingly defeated a physician-assisted suicide bill in September 2015, less than two months later the German parliament has passed a law legalizing some assisted suicides. As Reuters News reported:
“The bill, which was upheld with 360 out of 602 votes, criminalizes organizations that assist patients in terminating their own lives for profit. It is meant to prevent the commercialization of the procedure as a “suicide business.”
However, single instances of suicide assistance – by a doctor or relative – do not contradict the new law. A husband who helps his terminally ill wife to die would not be prosecuted.
“Commercial” assisted suicide would be punished by up to three years imprisonment, even if doctors allegedly perform the procedure to relieve suffering.
The law is a surprise to many, especially since Germany has long been sensitive to the issue of euthanasia following its’ history in World War II when the Nazis used the practice to kill over 200,000 people with mental and physical disabilities as well as millions of Holocaust victims.
Actually, the 1945 Hadamar Trial involving euthanasia by healthcare professionals at the Hadamar psychiatric clinic was the first mass atrocity trial in the US zone of Germany following World War II. As a nurse, I was particularly horrified when I first read about the famous study of the willing participation of nurses titled “Killing while caring: the nurses of Hadamar”
What can we expect?
Former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said the new German assisted suicide law “will open an era of great legal uncertainty” and will certainly be appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court.
But If efforts to stop the German law fail, the law will doubtless be expanded in the future as other countries in Europe have done.
Although ignored or dismissed in the US, the expansion and problems of euthanasia/assisted suicide in European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland show the danger of first accepting a supposedly “limited” assisted suicide law.
For example, the Netherlands now uses lethal injections to dispatch infants with disabilities and adults of any age even without physical illness or consent. Belgium has done planned organ donation after euthanasia by lethal injection with the Ethics Committee of Eurotransplant even formulating recommendations for organ donation after euthanasia. And Switzerland has a booming business with assisted suicide organizations like Exit and Dignitas even though a study showed that 16% of assisted suicide deaths in Switzerland are of people who have no underlying illness.
As the late Richard John Neuhaus wisely said ” I believe in the slippery slope the same way I believe in the Hudson River. It’s there.”
But until we are ready to recognize the potent logic about the disastrous and unintended consequences when we legalize “just a little bit” of legalized medical killing, we may find that the slippery slope has no bottom.