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Germany: Parliament Adopts Draft Act to Criminalize Commercial Assisted Suicide

(Dec. 1, 2015) On November 6, 2015, the German Bundestag (parliament) adopted a draft act that criminalizes commercial assisted suicide. (Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Strafbarkeit der geschäftsmäßigen Förderung der Selbsttötung [Draft Act to Criminalize Commercial Assisted Suicide] (July 1, 2015), DEUTSCHER BUNDESTAG: DRUCKSACHEN UND PROTOKOLLE [BT-Drs.] 18/5373, Deutscher Bundestag website (scroll down to view text of the draft act).) The draft legislation would add a new section 217 to the German Criminal Code.  (Strafgesetzbuch (StGB) [Criminal Code] (Nov. 13, 1998, as amended), BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 3322, GESETZE IM INTERNET; German Criminal Code (as last amended Oct. 10, 2013), GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.)

The draft act applies to associations, organizations, and individuals that offer suicide assistance with a commercial intent. The crime would be punishable with a fine or with imprisonment of up to three years.  Close relatives or other people who are close to the person wishing to commit suicide would be exempt from criminal liability. (Id. at 5.)

The Bundesrat, the constitutional body through which the German states participate in the legislative process, adopted the draft act in its November 27, 2015, session. (Beschluss des Bundesrates, Gesetz zur Strafbarkeit der geschäftsmäßigen Förderung der Selbsttötung [Decision of the Bundesrat, Act to Criminalize Commercial Assisted Suicide], DEUTSCHER BUNDESRAT: DRUCKSACHEN UND PROTOKOLLE [BR-Drs.] 544/15r (Nov. 27, 2015), Bundesrat website.)  The draft act will enter into force once the Federal President has signed it and it is published in the Federal Law Gazette. (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (May 23, 1949), BGBl. I at 1, as amended, art. 82, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE (unofficial English translation).)

Background

Suicide itself remains exempt from criminal punishment in Germany. Due to the fact that suicide is not a criminal offense, aiding and abetting a voluntary suicide will also remain exempt from punishment.  (Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Strafbarkeit der geschäftsmäßigen Förderung der Selbsttötung, supra, at 10.)  Killing on request is criminally punishable, according to section 216 of the German Criminal Code.

Voting on the Draft and Reactions to the Legislation

Originally, the German Bundestag debated four different draft acts on assisted suicide that varied on the types of assisted suicide that would have been punishable. As the sponsors of the legislation were not able to reach an agreement on the voting order, the Bundestag used a ballot procedure instead.  After the third debate, the Bundestag only voted on the draft act that had received the most votes after the second debate, and that version was eventually adopted. (Geschäftsmäßige Hilfe zum Suizid wird bestraft [Commercial Assisted Suicide Will Be Punished] (Nov. 6, 2015), Deutscher Bundestag website.)

Critics contend that the draft act is unconstitutionally vague, because it includes no clear distinction between illegal commercial assisted suicide and legally aiding and abetting suicide. (Sterbehilfe: Wissenschaftlicher Dienst zweifelt an Entwürfen [Assisted Suicide: Parliamentary Research Service Questions the Draft Acts], LEGAL TRIBUNE ONLINE (Aug. 26, 2015).)