World News

German top court overturns ban on assisted suicide services

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) - A German law that bans assisted suicide services breaches the constitution, the country’s top court ruled on Wednesday in a landmark decision in favor of groups that help people die when they choose.

The plaintiffs wanted to overturn a law that has since 2015 outlawed assisted suicide undertaken by organizations or doctors who accepted a fee for their help.

“The prohibition of assisted suicide services...violates the Basic Law and is void,” the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said in its ruling.

Lawmakers must now draw up new rules to reflect the decision.

Euthanasia is particularly sensitive in Germany due to the legacy of the Holocaust, when Nazis killed and carried out inhumane experiments on Jews.

Because of the existing German law, some people seek euthanasia via relatives or go abroad.

In its ruling, the court said Germany’s constitution includes a right to a self-determined death which encompasses the freedom to take one’s own life and use assistance provided voluntarily by third parties.

This decision by an individual must be respected, the court said.

Some palliative medics had argued against any change in the law, fearing that could risk premature action in cases not properly based on a wish to die.

Only a few countries in the world have legalized euthanasia whereby a doctor administers lethal doses of drugs to patients willing to die, or people perform the action themselves.

Reporting by Ursula Knapp; Writing by Madeline Chambers, editing by Emma Thomasson and Angus MacSwan