The German Parliament passed a bill Friday that would allow assisted suicide if it is conducted with “altruistic motives,” the Associated Press reported. The practice is still prohibited if done on a “business” basis.
Lawmakers had been debating the bill for months, and the issue had cut across party lines, bringing out passionate arguments from all sides. For some, discussion of euthanasia recalls Germany’s history in World War II, as the Nazis used the practice to kill more than 200,000 people with mental and physical disabilities.
The final bill passed 360-233, despite arguments that the law’s ambiguous language could leave doctors open to significant legal challenges. The bill allows assisted suicide on an “individual basis out of altruistic motives,” according to the AP, but warns that individuals who offer to help someone with suicide “on business terms” could face up to three years in prison.
Former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said the measure “will open an era of great legal uncertainty,” and she is confident it will be appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court.
“When does a doctor behave in a business fashion?” Zypries asked lawmakers, the AP reported. “That is unclear.”
As the issue was debated among lawmakers, Germany’s Jewish community advocated against legalizing assisted suicide. The Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s main Jewish organization, said Monday that Germany should not change its laws on the issue, according to the Times of Israel.
Before the passage of the new law, assisted suicide existed in a murky area of German law. Doctors in Germany were allowed to accelerate death for terminal patients by providing high doses of pain medication or by withdrawing life sustaining treatments if the patient asked for this option. However, it was illegal to help a patient kill themselves and fail to alert emergency medical services.
German lawmakers debated four different proposals, with the middle version that passed gaining support from all parties in Parliament, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the opposition Left Party.
“Seriously ill and elderly people should not be pushed to commit suicide,” Central Council President Josef Schuster, a physician and member of the Central Ethics Committee of the German Medical Association, said in a statement Tuesday, according to the Times of Israel.
Other countries in Europe have previously legalized euthanasia, including the Netherlands, Belgium and, in some cases, Switzerland, according to the Guardian. Five states in the United States also allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients, although euthanasia is illegal in the U.S.