Germany: Court denies patients right to suicide drug

Wednesday, 8 November 2023 (10:28 IST)
Germany's Federal Administrative Court on Tuesday ruled that individuals who wish to end their lives have no right to acquire a deadly dose of narcotics to administer themselves.
German law on assisted dying is a gray area, and the two men had asked to acquire lethal doses of sodium-pentobarbital to be used at their homes.
What the men wanted
The two plaintiffs — one seriously ill with the after-effects of cancer and the other with multiple sclerosis  — had applied to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) for permission to buy sodium pentobarbital.
The drug is a powerful sedative and it can be lethal in high doses, being the preferred drug for judicial executions in many US states.
Both men had said they wanted to be able to end their lives at home, with their families, and without the help of a doctor.
However, the BfArM rejected the application, and both men unsuccessfully challenged the ruling in lower courts.
What the court ruled
In the legal decision on Tuesday, the court in Leipzig agreed with the earlier rulings.
It agreed that denying the men access to the drug interfered with their right to a self-determined death, which includes the freedom to take one's own life as well as the right to seek and use voluntarily offered help to do so.
While that right is enshrined in German law, the judges said the other public interests such as safety outweighed it. The court added that there was a "realistic possibility" of obtaining lethal doses of drugs via a doctor willing to help of their own volition and not on a business basis.
"For people who have made a self-determined decision to end their life, there are other reasonable options for realizing their wish to die," the court said in a statement.
"The dangers that can arise from the purchase of sodium pentobarbital and the storage of the drug by those wishing to die are great. In view of these dangers and the existing alternatives to using the desired means, there is no objection to the fact that the law does not allow its acquisition for the purpose of suicide."
Plaintiffs plan for appeal
The two men's lawyer, Robert Rossruch, said they would appeal the ruling to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court.
"This is a black day for the two plaintiffs and a black day for all people in Germany who had hoped to be able to commit suicide with sodium pentobarbital to end their suffering," he said.
Active assistance — physically taking an individual's life for them — is banned in Germany, but the law is less clear around supplying passive help, such as providing deadly medication for them to take themselves.
The issue raises particular sensitivities in the country, where more than 200,000 people with disabilities were murdered by the Nazis under a program of euthanasia.

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