The German Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] on Friday ruled that removing a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [judgment, in German] if the terminal individual had previously given consent. The landmark ruling legalized [press release, in German] the right to die [JURIST news archive] and overturned the nine-month sentence of a lawyer who was convicted last year for advising a client to remove her mother from life support after being in a coma since 2002. Before slipping into the coma, the patient had told her daughter she did not want her life to be prolonged artificially. Upon the lawyer's advice, the daughter had removed the gastric tube keeping her mother alive. The hospital was able to reinsert the feeding tube, but the patient died of heart failure two weeks later. Both the lawyer the daughter were charged with attempted manslaughter, but the daughter was previously acquitted by a district court. The ruling only legalizes the right to die through the passive assistance of removing a patient from life support. Other "active" forms of assistance are still punishable by up to five years in prison.
The right to die has been a highly contentious issue around the world. In August, the Supreme Court of Western Australia [official website] upheld the right to die [JURIST report] in a case involving a quadriplegic who asked to be removed from food and hydration services. Last July, the UK Law Lords asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify [JURIST report] the UK's laws regarding those who aid patients seeking assisted suicide. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. The House of Lords in July rejected a bill [JURIST report] that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. In May 2009, the South Korean Supreme Court [official website, in Korean] upheld a lower court ruling allowing a brain-damaged patient the right to die. The judge held that, for future cases, doctors should make efforts to confirm patients' wishes to die with dignity and that such determinations can be deduced from an analysis of different factors.