Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that individuals have a right to a self-determined death. This ruling overturns a previous ban on professionally-assisted suicide.
Section 217 of the German Criminal Code previously provided punishments of up to three years of imprisonment or a fine to anyone who, with the intention to help another individual commit suicide, provided the opportunity through either personally providing or procuring the professional services. This provision was challenged by multiple groups and individuals, including associations offering suicide assistance, individuals with serious illnesses, physicians and lawyers.
The law was meant to protect “autonomy and life,” but the court found that it exceeds “the limits of what constitutes a legitimate means for protecting personal autonomy in the decision on ending one’s life where it no longer protects free decisions of the individual but renders such decisions impossible.” The court found that the law violated the constitution, and had to be declared void.
The court held that the right to professionally-assisted suicide is not limited to serious or incurable illnesses or to certain stages of life. It is guaranteed in all stages of life and condition. Individuals also have the right to seek assistance from third parties.
As the court stated:
This right includes the freedom to take one’s own life and, as the case may be, resort to assistance provided voluntarily by third parties for this purpose. Where, in the exercise of this right, an individual decides to end their own life, having reached this decision based on how they personally define quality of life and a meaningful existence, their decision must, in principle, be respected by state and society as an act of autonomous self-determination.
In ruling that § 217 was void, the court noted that recognizing the right to professionally-assisted suicide does not mean that legislation cannot take measures to prevent general suicide. The court also noted that this ruling does not ban legislators from regulating suicide assistance.