Starting from today, Christian Churches in Germany will be celebrating their 26th Ecumenical Week for Life. The week has been organized since 1994 by the Catholic Bishops Conference (Dbk) together with the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) to raise awareness in the Church and larger society on the dignity of every human life.
This year’s edition, which was postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is focused on the theme “Life when Dying” which was inspired by a fundamental change in the German legal framework concerning the right to life.
The Federal Constitutional Court’s ruling on “self-responsible suicide”
In a ruling in February 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court overturned a Bundestag’s decision in 2015 to ban professionally assisted suicide under Section 217 of the German Penal Code (StGB). According to the Karlsruhe judges, the constitutional principle of freedom and dignity of all persons also includes the fundamental right of self-determination of their own death. This means that in the future doctors will be called upon by the law to medically assist ill people wanting to commit suicide. German Bishops have expressed concern over the ruling, saying that “assisted suicide is not an ethically acceptable option.
A dangerous trend towards euthanasia
Auxiliary Bishop of Augsburg Anton Losinger, who is also a member of the Ethical Commission of Bavaria, explains to Vatican News the Church’s arguments against it. Assisted suicide, he says, “establishes an inclined plane” that will fatally lead to legalizing euthanasia and accelerate the process, a trend which the Catholic Church and the majority of health professionals in the Federal Republic of Germany, vigorously oppose.
Assisted suicide is not the right answer to precarious end-of-life situations
The prelate notes that the President of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has warned that it would imply a substantial change of the role doctors, who would become “from helpers to executors”
German Bishops’ Conference are concerned that committing self-responsible suicide and assisted suicide “could develop into a more or less ‘normal form’ of dying in care situations”: there would be a “gentle and constant pressure on people in need of care and particularly on the elderly who don’t want to be a burden on their relatives”, they argue. According to the bishops, enabling assisted suicide is “not the right answer to precarious end-of-life situations”. What is required instead, “is help, care and support in these difficult life situations and the development of life perspectives for people in need”, bishop Losinger reiterates.
Suicide is rarely a responsible act of freedom
Citing studies conducted by the “National Suicide Prevention Programme”, he further reminds that the vast majority of people in critical health conditions with suicidal thoughts are in great psychological distress, which – he points out – confirms that suicide is rarely “a responsible act of freedom. In most cases it is a cry for help to society!”
The need for good palliative care
German Catholic bishops therefore insist that “good care, professional palliative care and promoting the hospice idea are the appropriate instruments” in these cases.
He goes on to explain that the aim of the ecumenical Week is to send a strong message in this sense: “We need to build a society with a human face which is determined to provide assistance in living rather than in assisted suicide”, bishop Losinger emphasizes.
The Week for life
The event starts at 10.30 this morning with an ecumenical service in Augsburg Cathedral, which will be concelebrated by the DBK president, bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, and by his Evangelical counterpart, bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, together with the local Catholic bishop Bertram Meier and the Evangelical bishop Axel Piper. The celebration will be followed by an online discussion on the ethical and pastoral implications of the end of life will begin, with the participation of Church and civil society representatives.