More than 3,000 people over the age of 65 commit suicide in Germany every year. The World Health Organization estimates that the number is about 1 million worldwide. Euthanasia is only legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Colombia. Assisted suicide (when the doctor doesn’t actively participate in the suicide but makes it available) is legal in Germany and some states in the U.S, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana.
Roger Kusch is chairman of the Sterbehilfe Deutschland (Help to Die Germany), or StHD. Johann Friedrich Spittler, 72, is a psychiatrist and neurologist who provides StHD with expert assessments of the mental and physical condition of people wishing to die. For 200 euros a year ($223), members of StHD can get suicide assistance, at their own request, after meeting the requirements. A one-time payment of 2,000 euros ($2,232) for a lifetime membership is also possible. For a onetime fee of 7,000 euros ($7,812) there’s the most exclusive “Membership S.” The association has around 600 members. Members must have reached the age of maturity, have the ability to understand suicide and consider the alternatives to it.
Even though assisted suicide is legal in Germany, both Kusch and Spittler were both charged with manslaughter in May 2014, mainly for being present and staying until their clients were dead. The court has not yet decided if the case will go to trial, but both men are careful now to leave the scene of death to avoid more legal troubles.
Ironically, many of the members of StHD are not terminally ill. Some are nearing an age when nursing homes are becoming an option, but they’d rather die.
In the event of an assisted suicide in Germany, cameras are set up to record everything that happens beforehand, especially with Kusch or Spittler repeatedly asking if the client really wants to die or wants to consider the options. When the client is certain, two beakers of a lethal liquid are brought to the client. Before drinking the first, the client is told there’s no going back once it’s ingested. After the client drinks both, the cameras come down and the men leave the client to die alone, to avoid legal trouble again.
In the U.S Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who had terminal brain cancer, went public with her decision to end her own life. Maynard is one of more than 750 people in Oregon who have ingested a lethal dose of prescription medication since the Death with Dignity Act went into effect in 1997. Unlike the law in Germany, in Oregon and most of the states that make assisted suicide legal, the patient must be terminally ill. In fact, two doctors must confirm a diagnosis of terminal illness with no more than six months to live.