- 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)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”