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German churches oppose proposals to legalise euthanasia

Cardinal Reinhard Marx (CNS)

Proposals to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in Germany have met with opposition from the country’s Catholic and Protestant churches.

Members of the Bundestag, the lower chamber of the German Parliament, will be granted a vote on a number of bills aimed at changing the law on doctor-assisted death by November.

But on the eve of their first debate, the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) issued a joint statement calling on politicians to reject any proposals to liberalise the law.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the EKD chairman, said a change in the law would make suicide an “everyday” occurrence in Germany.

“We fear an increasing softening of the killing taboo in our society,” the Church leaders said in their statement.

People who are elderly, disabled or seriously ill and who are “often afraid of being a burden to others”, would be especially exposed to a “subtle social pressure” to end their lives, they said.

“We see this as a significant threat to the dignity of human life,” the leaders said. “We need to prevent the everyday sight of suicide in our country.”

They emphasised their forthright opposition to the “normalisation of assisted suicide” and voiced their support for an outright ban on the practice.

They added that politicians should seek “to protect all life in all its frailty and vulnerability and to create the conditions for adequate human and medical care at end of life”.

They also said that it was vital that the German public was better informed of the efficacy of palliative and hospice care already available to them, and demanded the expansion of such services.

Their intervention came as four draft bills were submitted to the Bundestag ahead of debates for the reform of the law.

At present, direct euthanasia is illegal in Germany although assisted suicide is sometimes tolerated in hard cases.

One of the bills before the Bundestag would allow the complete deregulation of assisted suicide, meaning that clinics such as the Switzerland-based Dignitas would be able to open centres in Germany.

The draft bill with the most support, however, advocates the liberalisation of assisted suicide as long as those people who provided terminally-ill patients with lethal drugs did not make profit from their activities.

Another Bill aims to criminalise all forms of assisted suicide and euthanasia, while a fourth would allow doctors the right to perform euthanasia as well as provide the means for assisted suicides.