Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: German Protestantism, Conscience, and the Limits of Purely Ethical Reflection
Christian Bioethics 2003 August-December; 9(2-3): 203-225
In this essay I shall describe and analyse the current debate on physician assisted suicide in contemporary German Protestant church and theology. It will be shown that the Protestant (mainly Lutheran) Church in Germany together with her Roman Catholic sister church has a specific and influential position in the public discussion: The two churches counting the majority of the population in Germany among their members tend to "organize" a social and political consensus on end-of-life questions. This cooperation is until now very successful: Speaking with one voice on end-of-life questions, the two churches function as the guardians of a moral consensus which is appreciated even by many non-believers. Behind this joint service to society the lines of the theological debate have to be re-discovered. First it will be argued that a Protestant reading of the joint memoranda has to be based on the concept of individual conscience. The crucial questions are then: Whose conscience has the authority to decide? and: Can the physician assisted suicide be desired faithfully? Prominent in the current debate are Ulrich Eibach as a strict defender of the sanctity of life, and on the other side Walter Jens and Hans Kung, who argue for a right to physician assisted suicide under extreme conditions. I shall argue that it will be necessary to go beyond this actual controversy to the works of Gerhard Ebeling and Karl Barth for a clear and instructive account of conscience and a theological analysis of the concepts of life and suicide. On the basis of their considerations, a conscience- related approach to physician assisted suicide is developed.
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