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Germany’s Highest Court Finds Assisted Suicide Ban Unconstitutional

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  • Germany overturned a 2015 law that banned organized medically assisted suicides after a court ruled that it violated people’s rights to made decisions about their own lives. 
  • The ban was designed to stop those who carried out the practice as a form of reoccurring business, but it instead pushed terminally ill patients to travel outside the country for legal end of life assistance. 
  • While proponents celebrated the move, lawmakers behind the original ban fear it will pave the way toward the “normalization of suicide as a treatment option.”

Ban Deemed Unconstitutional 

Germany’s highest court overturned a ban on organized medically assisted suicides Wednesday, allowing terminally ill patients to seek help in ending their lives without having to leave the country.

The court determined that the five-year-old ban infringes on people’s constitutional right to make decisions about their own lives. The ruling came in response to a complaint from a group of doctors, patients, and proponents who challenged the law, which made the “commercial promotion of suicide” punishable by a fine or up to three years in jail. 

Euthanasia is a particularly sensitive topic in Germany because the last time it was part of public policy, it was used by Nazis to kill hundreds of thousands of people with illnesses and disabilities. The law made allowances for assisted suicide with “altruistic motives” and instead was aimed at stopping groups or individuals who were creating a form of business by carrying them out in exchange for money. 

So in practice, it was essentially designed to end “recurring” assistance and some lawmakers hoped it would prevent the process from becoming socially acceptable.  Legal uncertainty worsened in 2017 when a new ruling said patients in extremely exceptional circumstances could not be barred access to lethal drugs. Reports say that authorities largely ignored that ruling and doctors were too fearful to stumble into these gray areas. 

The laws instead drove people to travel to places like Switzerland and the Netherlands to legally end their lives. Centers and professionals that previously carried out these procedures in an organized fashion were forced to stop out of concerns over jail sentences.

Dr. Matthaias Thöns, a physician who was a part of the complaint, said overturning the law would give doctors more power in rare end-of-life cases as well as in palliative care, which is care aimed at improving a terminally ill person’s quality of life. Under the old ban, he said he would worry about how much pain medication he could give patients because he didn’t want to be held criminally responsible in the event of a purposeful overdose. 

Reactions to the Ruling 

“The rule is not compatible with the basic law and thus void,” said Judge Andreas Vosskuhle, the president of the eight-member Federal Constitutional Court. The court added that the right to die “includes the freedom to take one’s life and to rely on the voluntary help of another person.”

In a surprising addition, the court explicitly stated that the freedom to choose one’s death “is guaranteed in all stages of a person’s existence.” 

The decision was met with some pushback from lawmakers. Hermann Gröhe, a former health minister who helped create the original ban, told reporters that he believed the decision would pave the way toward the “normalization of suicide as a treatment option.”

Beatrix von Storch, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, said the decision would have wide-ranging consequences and would create “a cult of death.”

On the opposite end, proponents welcomed the victory while noting that the previous law went too far. Dr. Thöns also celebrated the move, however, he did warn that the practice needs to be tightly regulated. 

As for now, the German government said it would examine the court’s decision before deciding how to draw up new rules to reflect the change. Meanwhile, other European countries are also grappling with debates over how to address the practice. 

Politicians in Spain are currently talking over a new bill that could legalize end of life assistance in cases where a patient suffers unbearable physical or psychological pain, with no hope of improvement. Portugal also moved a step closer to legalizing euthanasia, passing a bill through parliament. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NYT)((EuroNews)

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Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem

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The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.


Instulting the Anthem

Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.

The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.

The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.

Concerns for Freedom of Speech

The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.

They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”

Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.

This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.

Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.

See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

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Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse

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The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.


Priest Sparks Outrage

Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.

Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.

To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.

Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.

“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.

Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”

Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.

Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims

Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.

Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.

The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.

While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”

With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.

The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.

See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)

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Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases

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Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.


Cases Going Up

The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.

On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.

At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.

Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.

Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.

Doubts About Government Response

The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”

However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.

“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.

He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.

Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)

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