Several assisted suicide battles brewing around the world

German bishops’ conference spokesman said people need help in living, not dying.

It’s not help in dying that is needed by people undergoing pain and suffering but “support to develop prospects of life,” said a spokesman for the Catholic bishops of Germany.

The spokesman, Matthias Kopp, was responding to a newspaper article in support of physician assisted suicide in Germany, where there has been a legal challenge to the country’s constitutional ban on the practice.

Around the world, physician assisted suicide is legal in a handful of nations: Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. 

Last year saw a few countries make their moves to add to that list. Portuguese lawmakers voted in February to permit euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults older than 18. In October, the Dutch government announced plans to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children who are under 13 years old. 

New Zealand voters in November approved the End of Life Choice Act, which, when it takes effect this year, will allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors.

And in December, lawmakers in Spain voted in favor of a law decriminalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

In Australia, there is a movement to overturn a 1997 law that overrode the right of the country’s Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory to legalize assisted suicide, according to the Australia ABC.

In the U.S., several states might take up measures this year leading to legalization of assisted suicide. 

“We predict that assisted suicide bills will be introduced in at least 20 states and some states that legalized assisted suicide will debate bills to expand their assisted suicide laws, in 2021,” wrote Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Canada-based Euthasia Prevention Coalition. “In 2020, many states debated assisted suicide bills but most of those bills died on the order paper. Some of the assisted suicide bills died on the order paper because the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down state legislatures.

Schadenberg said he is “very concerned about possible assisted suicide bills in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico and New York, among others.”

Recently, the Maryland Catholic Conference said it expects a fight this year over legalizing assisted suicide in the state. “We expect it to come back. The proponents of that legislation have made it their mission to try and get it passed in Maryland,” Jenny Kraska, MCC executive director, told the Catholic Review.

“From a Christian point of view, people’s freedom to decide for themselves at every stage of their life according to their personal ideas is very important” and this applies to death too, providing the rule of law is respected, the German bishops’s spokesman Kopp said in a statement. “However, this does not make suicide an ethically acceptable option.” 

Kopp cited research showing that the desire to end one’s life is, in most cases, the result of fear, despair resulting from extreme situations, and therefore “cannot be understood as the expression of self-determination.” For this reason, he says, “the desire to commit suicide cannot be accepted without asking questions, nor considered as a normal form of death.” On the contrary, it is precisely in these “highly dramatic situations of life” that “respect of self-determination requires a special observation and an empathic attention.”

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