German court legalises assisted suicide on request

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Germany's top criminal court issued a landmark ruling yesterday legalising assisted suicide where it is carried out based on a patient's prior request.

The ruling came as the court overturned the conviction of a lawyer who had counselled his client in 2007 to stop tube-feeding her mother, who had been in a non-responsive coma for five years. A lower court had convicted the attorney, Wolfgang Putz, of attempted manslaughter and given him a nine-month suspended sentence. The Federal Court of Justice stated that the 71-year-old woman had said in 2002 that she did not want to be kept alive under such circumstances, before falling into the coma.

Germany's Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, pictured, welcomed the ruling. "There can't be forced treatment against a person's will," she said. "This is about the right of self-determination and therefore a question of a life in human dignity until the end."

In the case considered, the woman's daughter cut the feeding tube. She was has been acquitted because she was acting Mr Putz's legal advice.