Assisting people in the dark moments of their lives - promoting hospice and palliative work, preventing assisted suicide
Declaration by the Permanent Council of the German Bishops' Conference
The Permanent Council of the German Bishops' Conference dealt extensively with the question of assisted suicide and the public discussion at its video conference (January 25-26, 2021). At the end of its deliberations, the Permanent Council declares:
“With its judgment of February 26, 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court declared Section 217 of the Criminal Code to be unconstitutional. This made business-like aiding and abetting suicide a criminal offense. The court is of the opinion that respect for human dignity requires that the possibility of voluntary suicide be kept open. The individual is also given the right to accept help in suicide. At the same time, the judges also see that freedom of decision can be restricted, especially at the end of life. That is why they give the legislature the possibility of regulating assisted suicide in such a way that freedom of choice is preserved, but at the same time people are protected against hasty or even externally determined implementation of a wish to die.
Immediately after the verdict was published, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference and the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany issued a joint statement that made critical comments.
The judgment and the resulting discussion about a new legal regulation challenge the church in its pastoral care, but also as a provider of services and institutions of welfare care. The Permanent Council of the German Bishops' Conference takes a very differentiated view of these challenges. From a Christian point of view, too, human freedom to shape life according to one's own ideas in every phase of life is of fundamental importance. A free legal system that is committed to protecting human autonomy is a valuable asset. This self-determination, respected by the rule of law, must of course also apply in death. However, this does not make assisted suicide an ethically acceptable option. The German bishops are aware that there can be situations in life in which people develop suicidal wishes or even feel pressured to commit suicidal acts. Such situations elude a final moral judgment from outside.
A look at current suicide research shows, however, that a suicide wish in most cases is the result of fear, despair and hopelessness in extreme situations and therefore cannot be understood as an expression of self-determination. In these situations, respect for self-determination does not mean accepting the desire or decision to commit suicide unquestioningly or viewing suicide as a normal form of dying.
For Christians, life is a gift entrusted to them by God. It is beyond our availability and therefore needs to be preserved until the end. We therefore expect that all efforts will be directed towards creating better opportunities for a tolerable end to life. Palliative care and hospice work must be promoted. Professional help with depression is also crucial. Especially life in dark moments, in despair or in serious illness retains its dignity. We want to stand up for this as a church - especially with our institutions - and support people so that they do not lose faith and hope. God is a friend of life who - as the prophet Isaiah says - does not break the kinked reed and does not extinguish the smoldering wick (cf. Is 42: 3).
The Permanent Council is therefore of the conviction that making assisted suicide possible is not the right answer to the life situations of people who develop or intend to commit suicide. In this situation it is about the development of life prospects and especially not about helping people to commit suicide. In addition, we consider the subtle pressure to consent to assisted suicide out of fear of becoming a burden to others at the end of life as a great danger. We believe that this pressure could no longer be kept away from the sick and the dying if assisted suicide became a normal model of dying.
Christian pastoral care approaches the person with an open mind. It is based on the Christian message of hope and is on the side of life. Pastoral workers accept people for who they are and at the same time offer them guidance. The doctors, nurses and carers in our church and charitable institutions have also committed themselves to promoting life in this way. Making it possible to offer assisted suicide in these facilities would not be compatible with the essence of our commitment to life. "
FULL TEXT Official Release Internet Translation: https://www.dbk.de/presse/aktuelles/meldung/menschen-in-den-dunkeln-momenten-ihres-lebens-beistehen-hospiz-und-palliativarbeit-foerdern-assistierten-suizid-verhindern