The judgment of the German Constitutional Court, which ruled unconstitutional the law that maintained the penalty for assisted suicide when practiced by organizations specifically dedicated to it (such as those currently operating in Switzerland, for profit), was published a few days ago. It considered such a Court that this penalty goes against the right of individual autonomy (included in the general personality development right) enshrined in the German Constitution. You can consult on here a summary of the judgment in English.
It is to be expected that, considering the traditional and strong influence of German doctrine and jurisprudence, this decision will strengthen the currents that, in several countries, support the constitutionality of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide or, even more, maintain that this legalization is a constitutional imposition.
But it seems to me important to emphasize, above all, what this decision represents as a symptom of what is really at stake in the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is a question of overturning a foundation that causes the entire building to collapse, without the damage of that overturn being contained, or without the breach being restricted to rare or exceptional cases. The slide ramp is not a fiction or a ghost, it is a reality.
I made these statements in a recent article about the project under discussion in the Netherlands to legalize euthanasia for people over seventy years old, healthy but “tired of living”. The legalization of assisted suicide in several North American states is restricted to situations of terminal illness. The legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Netherlands and Belgium already covers non-terminal illnesses (a step that a recent Canadian project also intends to take, four years after legalization). It went from euthanasia in terminal illnesses to euthanasia in incurable diseases and now it is intended to euthanize non-sick elderly people. Always in the name of individual autonomy.
The German Constitutional Court goes even further: it categorically affirms that individual autonomy implies an unconditional and unlimited right to suicide: it is not permissible to restrict that right to situations of illness, terminal or not, or more or less severe, or to any age, nor any special motivation. And this right implies the auxiliary intervention of third parties, it implies the legalization of the suicide aid in any of these situations. It will be lawful to assist the suicide of a young person who considers that his life is no longer meaningful for any reason. Just like the suicide aid for those who, regardless of the suffering they may suffer, do not want to be a burden for the family. It is enough that the agent's will is sincere and definitive.
Commenting on the objective underlying the law considered unconstitutional, which aimed to limit the frequency of assisted suicide and avoid its trivialization, the Court states that this higher frequency may be a sign of reinforcing the value of individual autonomy and, therefore, of accepting . The judgment makes no reference to the fact that suicide is almost always the result of serious mental illness and does not clarify whether or not in these situations we will be facing a real exercise of the right of individual autonomy.
This decision reverses the tendency that had long prevailed in Germany, of greater resistance (in comparison with other countries) to the legalization of euthanasia, reflecting the trauma of the historical experience of legalization of euthanasia by the National Socialist regime, initially also presented as a response to serious illnesses (also there fell quickly on a sliding ramp). It was in this country that, for this reason, the word “euthanasia” was avoided and the expression “death aid” was used more frequently. It seems that this resistance and that trauma have completely disappeared.
But it must be recognized that this judgment of the German Constitutional Court is nothing more than the logical outcome of the principle that any legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide starts: that the protection of autonomy prevails over the protection of life. This is the foundation that such legalization breaks down: the inviolability of human life. And this is how the whole building on which this foundation rests falls. If autonomy prevails over life, it is to be expected that this principle will be taken to the ultimate consequences: it is not justified to limit it to situations of illness, terminal or not, or more or less severe, nor to any age, nor to any special one motivation. It is enough that the decision is free.
Certainly, none of the projects to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide currently under discussion in the Portuguese Parliament reach such consequences. But that is the logical outcome of the path that we now intend to start. Whether you want your proponents or not (whose good faith I don't question).
On the contrary, it is easy to justify the prevalence of the protection of life over the protection of autonomy. Life is the assumption of autonomy. It is not free who is not alive. To provoke death in the name of freedom is to destroy the root and source of freedom.
Likewise, the legalization of drug use and trafficking in the name of freedom and autonomy cannot be justified, since drug addiction destroys freedom and that is the greatest of its harms, What implications would the ultra-libertarian thesis of the decision of the German Constitutional Court in the context of the legal framework for drug consumption and trafficking: that this consumption and trafficking should also be seen as an exercise of autonomy? And death destroys freedom, even more than drug addiction.
In the same way, already said Stuart Mill, herald of liberalism, that consecrated slavery cannot be justified in the name of freedom. And death destroys freedom, even more than slavery.
There is also no point in invoking, as the judgment of the German Constitutional Court does, the right to free development of the personality to justify suicide and the aid to suicide: with these, any free development of personality is definitively annihilated.
In short, freedom cannot self-destruct. The right to suicide and the right to help with suicide are not a corollary of freedom, they are the suicide of freedom.