Germany’s Jewish umbrella warns lawmakers on euthanasia law

Proposals to change Germany’s euthanasia law have drawn strong warnings from Germany’s main Jewish organization.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said Monday that there must be no liberalization of assisted suicide in the country.

Euthanasia is a particularly sensitive topic in Germany, as an estimated 200,000 people — most of them mentally and physically handicapped — were murdered in the Nazi “euthanasia” program, their lives considered “unworthy” by the state.

On Friday the Bundestag is to consider possible changes to the euthanasia law, which is particularly strict in cases of assisted suicide.

Doctors are allowed to hasten death for a dying patient by providing high doses of pain medication or withdrawing treatments that sustain life, if the patient has expressed a wish for this treatment. But it is illegal to provide a patient with the means for suicide and then fail to alert emergency medical services once the person is dying.

On the table are various proposals — some to loosen and others to toughen the law.

“Seriously ill and elderly people should not be pushed to commit suicide,” Central Council President Josef Schuster, a
physician and member of the Central Ethics Committee of the German Medical Association, said in a statement.

Schuster expressed particular concern about two proposals from groups of legislators. One would allow a terminally ill adult who is capable of making decisions to enlist a doctor to provide the means for suicide, at the time and place of the patient’s choosing.

Under current law, if a person wishing to die has swallowed pills provided by a second person, the assisting person must immediately call for emergency medical help or face up to a year in jail.

Another proposal on the table would provide a legal framework for associations dedicated to assisted suicide under specific conditions.

Both have raised alarm bells for Schuster.

“Assisted suicide must not become a regular service provided by doctors, an alternative to care for the dying,” he said, urging more
support for palliative and hospice care for the dying.

German President Joachim Gauck also recently praised his country’s volunteer hospice movement without commenting directly on the upcoming Bundestag debate.

German leftist party introduces resolution to recognize Palestinian state

A left-wing opposition party in the German parliament introduced a resolution to recognize a Palestinian state, a position opposed by the current governing coalition.

Die Linke, or The Left Party, submitted the petition on March 18, The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday. No date was set for a vote by the Bundestag; it is unclear whether or not such a vote will be set.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose Christian Democratic Union party dominates the German parliament, hasdeclared previously that she supports a two-state solution but does not support unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post that Israel does not expect the motion to pass.

Germany should award pensions to ghetto survivors, Jewish body says

Germany's main Jewish body is calling on the German government and parliament to step in on behalf of survivors of World War II ghettoes who have not yet received a German pension for their work.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement March 1 that political leaders should not allow the “wrong and fatal impression” that they are playing with time, waiting for survivors to die. Noting that the average age of the survivors is 85, Graumann said that “every day the circle of possible recipients is growing ever smaller. So now is not the time for petty arithmetic, but rather for speedy action.”

Germany's Federal Social Court had granted the survivor pension entitlement back in 2009 after the Bundestag unanimously approved pension payments for former ghetto workers in 2002, retroactive to 1997. But the German Pension Insurance Organization reportedly awarded pensions to only a small fraction of those who qualified, critics have said.

One hurdle is that German social law only allows for four years of retroactive payments.  Three German parties – the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party – have put in a formal request that the government make up the difference for the survivors.

According to the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, State Secretary Ralf Brauksiepe, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union Party, said on Feb. 27 that the federal government had not yet made a decision as to whether and how back payments to ghetto workers could be made for those years in which red-tape prevented them from receiving any pensions for their labor. There was also no indication of a timetable, the report noted.

“For years, about 22,000 individuals – by now quite elderly – have been waiting for the retroactive payment of their pension,” Graumann said in his statement. Payments would also be a form of recognition of their endless suffering during the Nazi period – a moral duty on Germany's part, he indicated. “Every single day they wait is a day too many,” he said.

German Cabinet schedules circumcision amendment

Germany's Cabinet has scheduled a discussion on an amendment that would formally legalize ritual circumcision but place some restrictions on who could circumcise and how.

The discussion was set for Oct. 10, the German paper Die Welt reported. To become law, the amendment needs to pass a vote in the Bundestag.

Amendment 1631d to the law code on the rights of children was devised following a controversial ruling in May by a court in Cologne that said circumcision amounted to a criminal act.

If passed, the amendment would legalize religious circumcision of male minors when performed by a person who is medically qualified; with parental consent and under anaesthesia. Under the amendment, mohels, or Jewish ritual circumcisers, would be able to continue perform circumcisions if they obtain the relevant medical qualification.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has said in a statement that “it is especially welcome to hear that circumcision will not be regulated by criminal law but by family law.” He called the amendment “a step in the right direction.”

Representatives of the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Left Party already have protested the new proposal, according to the German news agency DPA, calling it “alarming” that the protection of a child from bodily harm seems to have taken secondary importance.