GERMANS DEBATE RIGHT TO DIE
July 3, 2008
When Roger Kusch helped Bettina Schardt kill herself at home on Saturday, the grim, carefully choreographed ritual was like that in many cases of assisted suicide, with one exception: Schardt, 79, a retired X-ray technician from the Bavarian city of Würzburg, was neither sick nor dying. She simply did not want to move into a nursing home, and rather than face that prospect, she asked Kusch, a prominent German campaigner for assisted suicide, for a way out.
Schardt's suicide and Kusch's energetic publicizing of it have set off a national furor over the limits on the right to die, in a country that has struggled with this issue more than most because of the Nazi's euthanizing of at least 100,000 mentally disabled and incurably ill people, says the New York Times.
On Friday, Bavaria and four other German states will push for new laws to ban commercial ventures that help people kill themselves:
- Suicide itself is not a crime, nor is aiding a suicide, provided it does not cross the line into euthanasia, or mercy killing.
- But many do not want Germany to follow the example of Switzerland, where liberal laws on euthanasia have led to a bustling trade in assisted suicide.
- In the last decade, nearly 500 Germans have crossed the border to end their lives with the help of a Swiss group that facilitates suicides.
The larger lesson of Schardt's solitary death may have to do with the way Germany treats its old, says the Times.
"The fear of nursing homes among elderly Germans is far greater than the fear of terrorism or the fear of losing your job," said Eugen Brysch, the director of the German Hospice Foundation. "Germany must confront this fear, because fear, as we have seen, is a terrible adviser."
Source: Mark Landler, "Assisted Suicide of Healthy 79-Year-Old Renews German Debate on Right to Die," New York Times, July 3, 2008.
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