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German courts legalise assisted suicide

Source: Nick Youngson

by Tehreem Sultan

Living in this era, suicide remains a taboo issue and the implication of the shame and illegality unfortunately adds to the grief and stigma felt by the deceased’s loved ones. Up until 1961, it’s bizarre that killing yourself was illegal in England and Wales, and would convict the individual of attempt to self-murder. Even the possibility that an individual who was in an intense state of emotional turmoil, could be dragged into the court and imprisoned sounds absurd. Fortunately, suicide was decriminalised 60 years ago but now the issue of the criminalisation of suicide stirs controversy again, after the recent decision by the German courts to overturn the ban on ‘assisted’ suicide. 

“It is hard to draw a fine line where assisting someone to end their life shall be allowed”

The five-year-old rule, once banning assisted suicide, has now been overturned and euthanasia is no longer illegal. Now here arises the question, isn’t helping someone end their life similar to murder? This judgment came following a long, heated discussion regarding the role of doctors and hospitals in medically assisted suicide, allowing gravely ill patients to end their suffering and take the decision to end their own life, without terminally sick patients having to travel to countries like the Netherlands or Switzerland for euthanasia. With conflicting views, this recent rule has been already met with criticism, while the supporters claim freedom to take one’s life is a right of any individual, which in any circumstances must be respected. With this ongoing debate, it is hard to draw a fine line where assisting someone to end their life shall be allowed, and whether this would violate the right to life of an individual. 

Shortening your time in this world, is a cruel yet appealing option for those suffering from severe, debilitating illnesses, and before coming to a final decision, dozens of thoughts will cross your mind. Is there really more dignity in death than in living your last few days of life knowing your time is nearly up? Are you really willing to see your loved ones at your deathbed? The scene you probably teared up at in ‘Me Before You’, happen all over again, but this time with your family and close friends? While this act is bluntly described as selfish and a violation of one’s right to life, it has now become legal in more parts of the world and that strongly indicates the great amount of support assisted suicide has received in the past few years. 

With this never-ending debate, let me once again highlight how despite many years have passed since suicide was officially ‘illegal’, in 2020 we still use the term ‘commit’ for a suicide attempt. Today, where ‘commit’ is used for heinous acts like murder, rape or assault, this shows that our attitudes in society still have a long way to go. A simple act of switching terminology, could mark the beginning of a more open-minded and informed public attitude, while making it easier for families to deal with their loved one’s loss. 

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