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German court OK’s assisted suicide

By Associated Press
June 26, 2010

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BERLIN — Germany’s top criminal court issued a landmark ruling yesterday legalizing assisted suicide in cases where it is carried out based on a patient’s prior request.

The ruling came as the court overturned the conviction of a lawyer who had counseled his client in 2007 to stop tube feeding her mother, who had been in a nonresponsive coma for five years. A lower court had convicted attorney Wolfgang Putz of attempted manslaughter and given him a nine-month suspended sentence.

The Federal Court of Justice said the 71-year-old woman had said in 2002 that she did not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.

The German justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, welcomed the ruling as a major step toward respecting an individual’s wishes. “There can’t be forced treatment against a person’s will,’’ she said in a statement. “This is about the right of self-determination and therefore a question of a life in human dignity until the end.’’

Germany took political steps to clarify the legal situation surrounding assisted suicide late last year. Parliament passed a law that made it binding for doctors to take into account people’s declarations on whether they wanted treatment to prolong their life following an accident or when terminally ill.

But the court ruling now makes it legal to help end a person’s life if it is their wish, rather than simply letting them die.

In the case considered, the 71-year-old woman fell into a coma after a cerebral hemorrhage in October 2002. Confined to a nursing home, she was fed through a tube for five years.

The court said improvement of her health was not be expected, but the nursing home refused to let the woman die.

The woman’s daughter eventually cut the feeding tube on her lawyer’s advice, with her brother and the attorney present.

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