Self Determination at Life’s End

The American coma patient Terri Schiavo is dead. The legal position concerning this borderline between death and life is far from clear. However, German experts agree that such an undignified tug-of-war could not happen here in Germany.


Physicians must consider dying patients’ self-determination and human dignity. Patients who are about to die are entitled to adequate treatment, especially pain relieving measures. They are to decide by themselves on the kind and extent of diagnostic and therapeutic measures. Patients in full command of their faculties may demand the curtailment of treatment or refuse life prolonging measures.

Procedures aimed at shortening life or hastening death are prohibited and will be treated as manslaughter in a lesser degree. This means prison, even if the dying person requested assistance. Patients not in control of their faculties are to be treated in accordance with their probable will. To explore this assumption, previous written statements or oral expressions of their wishes will be considered. The questioning of significant persons like good friends or relatives, spouses, or other close persons play an important role.
Patients have the possibility to issue a patient’s instruction to dispense with life preserving or prolonging treatments. As an incorporated declaration of the patient’s will that binds the physician, such patient’s instructions can designate persons of the patient’s trust or allow the physician to disclose information. However, in each and every case, the physician must carefully explore the patient’s wishes.

You can obtain further information on this topic at your church, welfare organizations, consumer centers (Verbraucherzentren), nursing companies, etc. The German government has uploaded a domain full of information on this topic – only in German.





Published on the old CMS: 2006/8/2
Read on the old CMS till November 2008: 237 reads

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