, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 371-381
Date: 23 Jul 2010

Doctor-cared dying instead of physician-assisted suicide: a perspective from Germany

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The current article deals with the ethics and practice of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and dying. The debate about PAS must take the important legal and ethical context of medical acts at the end of life into consideration, and cannot be examined independently from physicians’ duties with respect to care for the terminally ill and dying. The discussion in Germany about active euthanasia, limiting medical intervention at the end of life, patient autonomy, advanced directives, and PAS is not fundamentally different in content and arguments from discussions led in other European countries and the United States. This must be emphasized, since it is occasionally claimed that in Germany a thorough discussion could not be held with the same openness as in other countries due to Germany’s recent history. Still, it is worthwhile to portray the debate, which has been held intensively both among experts and the German public, from the German perspective. In general, it can be stated that in Germany debates about questions of medical ethics and bioethics are taking place with relatively large participation of an interested public, as shown, for instance, by the intense recent discussions about the legalisation of advanced directives on June 18 2009, the generation and use of embryonic stem cells in research or the highly difficult challenges for the prioritizing and rationing of scarce resources within the German health care system. Hence, the current article provides some insights into central medical and legal documents and the controversial public debate on the regulation of end-of-life medical care. In conclusion, euthanasia and PAS as practices of direct medical killing or medically assisted killing of vulnerable persons as “due care” is to be strictly rejected. Instead, we propose a more holistically-oriented palliative concept of a compassionate and virtuous doctor-cared dying that is embedded in an ethics of care.