Active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: The German discussion

Manfred Oehmichen, Christoph Meissner

7 Citations (Scopus)


The debate on legalization of active euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium and the refused legal right to choose the circumstances of Diana Pretty's own death are the last actual reasons for reconsidering the situation in Germany. Around the world heated debates have broken out on the topic of active euthanasia. Specialists in the field of 'forensic medicine' have taken full part in these discussions. The present survey from the point of view of forensic medicine begins with a look at current terminology and at the laws pertaining to euthanasia in Germany. These laws are then contrasted with actual practice, including a description of the increasing acceptance of active euthanasia by the German population. The main argument against legalization of active euthanasia is that its formal acceptance in law would cause the dam of restraint to burst, culminating in widespread misuse, as already seen in recent serial killings by nurses in hospitals and homes for the elderly around the world. Contrasted with this are the arguments for taking active steps at the end of life, including emotional considerations such as the revulsion against mechanized medicine and the fear of pain and rational arguments such as the necessity to end a 'life unworthy of life', to save medical costs, and obtaining prior consent in 'living walls'. Such considerations have put in jeopardy the moral integrity of the medical profession - and thus the layperson's trust in physicians - around the world. In Germany especially the history of mass killing during the Nazi era constitutes a fundamental argument against active euthanasia. As a consequences, in Germany active euthanasia will not receive legal sanction, although recommendations on rendering dying more bearable are permitted.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLegal Medicine
Pages (from-to)S20-S28
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2003


Dive into the research topics of 'Active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: The German discussion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this