Palliative care versus euthanasia. The German position: The German general medical council's principles for medical care of the terminally ill

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 25 (2):195 – 219 (2000)
Abstract
In September 1998 the Bundesrztekammer, i.e., the German Medical Association, published new principles concerning terminal medical care. Even before publication, a draft of these principles was very controversial, and prompted intense public debate in the mass media. Despite some of the critics' suspicions that the principles prepared the way for liberalization of active euthanasia, euthanasia is unequivocally rejected in the principles. Physician-assisted suicide is considered to violate professional medical rules. In leaving aside some of the notions customarily used in the euthanasia debate, e.g., passive euthanasia, the principles emphasize the obligation of physicians to offer and the right of patients to receive palliative care. The principles explicitly list modalities of basic treatment that are indispensable in all cases, such as the obligation to satisfy hunger and thirst. This statement is meant to resolve the dispute on nutrition and hydration at the end of life, as it shifts the focus of care from maintaining physiological parameters to satisfying subjective needs. For patients in a persistent vegetative state, artificial feeding is held to be obligatory. Yet, the principles make reference to recent German jurisdiction which permit the stopping of artificial feeding if it is in accordance with the patient's presumed will. Additionally, the wording concerning this issue is found to remain unclear. Patients' autonomy is strengthened by explicitly welcoming advance directives as a means to ascertain patients' wills. The principles mark some changes compared to earlier documents. They deserve careful analysis and should be considered in the international debate on issues concerning the end of life.
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