Assisted suicide – first decisions react to new law

Published 29 August 2016


On November 6 2015 Parliament voted for a new law on the culpability of individuals who assist in another person’s suicide and a new Section 217 of the Act for Criminal Law was implemented (for further details please see “Assisted suicide – are doctors guilty of committing an offence?“).

Based on Section 217, a person is guilty of an offence when assisting in suicide if the act demonstrates that the person is willing to assist more than once, independent of whether the act is commercially influenced.


Federal Constitutional Court
On December 21 2015 the Federal Constitutional Court issued a decision (2 BvR 2347/15) about an urgent application for enforcement without reduction of the new law. The application was brought by members of the association Sterbehilfe Deutschland eV against Section 217’s new rules.

The court rejected the application.

According to Section 217, when assisting in suicide a person is guilty of an offence only if the act demonstrates that the person is willing to assist more than once. This does not make assistance in suicide absolutely punishable under criminal law. Had the court accepted the urgent application, it would have led to a situation known as ‘fatal normality’, something that Parliament wishes expressly to avoid.

Cologne Administrative Court
A couple had applied to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices – the independent federal higher authority within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Health – for an official authorisation based on the Narcotics Act to buy a lethal volume of sodium pentobarbital. The institute refused and on December 1 2015 the Cologne Administrative Court decided about the couple’s request or approval (7 K 14/15). The couple argued that even though they were not fundamentally ill, they believed that their decision regarding suicide was a basic right of human dignity.

The court refused and argued that authorisation based on the Narcotics Act could only be given as long as it was necessary to safeguard medicinal services, which is not the case regarding approval for drugs to assist in a suicide. Such a right cannot be triggered by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The court went on to state that its view had been approved by Parliament on November 6 2015.