Medical care during suicide is not a homicide

Medical care during suicide is not a homicide

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BGH refers to the “freely responsible” will of the deceased

Doctors are not punishable for accompanying suicide victims to their deaths. You also do not have to take any rescue measures if the person has passed out, judged on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, the 5th Criminal Senate of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Leipzig; he thereby confirmed acquittals for doctors in Hamburg (Az .: 5 StR 132/18) and Berlin (Az .: 5 StR 393/18). The prerequisite for this is that those wishing to commit suicide have decided freely and on their own responsibility for their death.

In the Hamburg case, two women friends, 81 and 85 years old, suffered from several illnesses. These were not life-threatening, but the women saw their quality of life and options for action so limited that they wanted to end their lives. They therefore turned to an euthanasia association, which made its support dependent on a psychiatric report. The commissioned doctor for neurology and psychiatry had no doubts about the judgment ability of the women as well as about the firmness and "well-being" of their suicide desires. At the request of the women, the doctor witnessed her taking lethal medication and refrained from taking any rescue measures even after she passed out.

In the Berlin case, the family doctor had given a patient access to a deadly drug. The 44-year-old medical assistant has had an illness since the age of sixteen, which leads to severe cramp-like pain. Different treatments didn't help. The woman took the medication and notified her family doctor. He came to her and looked after her for two and a half days until her death. As desired, he did nothing to save the woman's life.

In both cases, the respective public prosecutor's office assessed the behavior of the doctors as a homicide and failure to provide help. The regional courts of Hamburg and Berlin, however, acquitted the accused.

The BGH has now followed suit. During the trial, the judges had already pointed out the legal situation in a living will. Thereafter, the will of decision-making patients is binding, doctors should not then end the desired process of death by "rescue".

The BGH now applied this here. All three women had made their own and "responsible" decision to commit suicide. The general duty to help in the event of an accident is therefore ruled out.

In the Hamburg case, the doctor was also not the woman's doctor. But even a doctor treating him, as here in the Berlin case, was "released from the (...) basically existing duty to save his patient's life by exercising the right of self-determination of the later deceased".

The BGH did not have to decide whether professional law was violated. It also made no difference whether the doctors could have violated the ban on "business-related promotion of suicide" because this rule did not yet exist at the time of the crime. mwo / fle

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Leipzig Az .: 5 StR 132/18 and Berlin Az .: 5 StR 393/18

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