Assisted suicide becoming a business in Germany?
Roger Kusch is providing paid counseling to those wishing to end their own lives and some German politicians and community leaders are not happy about it.
Frieda Felger was 97-years-old when she committed suicide. She is one of a growing number of elderly Germans that are choosing to end their own lives.
Felger’s case, and others like it, are currently provoking a contentious debate in Germany over whether people should be helped with the decision to die.
Felger, who killed herself on Nov. 28, 2008, is one of five people who received help from Roger Kusch, a former Hamburg justice minister turned euthanasia advocate.
Kusch does not directly assist in the suicides, as this is illegal under German law.
But he advertises his services as a "suicide counselor," providing advice and support for those seeking to die.
He films his discussions with potential suicides, and has shown journalists a video of his first "client" killing herself by taking a lethal cocktail of drugs in order to prove he was not on the premises at the time.
Kusch, whom critics denounced as a populist and provocateur when he was still in office in Hamburg, now charges 8,000 euros (10,110 dollars) per case for his help.
"I provide a service,” Kusch said. “It's of value, and in our society such things do not come free."
Felger was the fifth suicide he assisted this year.
She would have preferred to die in her own home, but was forced to kill herself in a hotel room in the western town of Muelheim as the police had become aware of her case and might have sought to stop her, Kusch explained on his website. The day before, the police had searched Kusch's home and computer.
Questioning the point of living
In Germany, as in many other European countries, the number of suicides has been declining -- except for those of older people, especially men over 75 -- according to official statistics.
More than 40 percent of those who killed themselves in Germany last year were over 60 years old -- 3,993 out of 9,402 -- even though this age group accounts for only a quarter of the population.
According to Christine Swientek, a university researcher who studies suicide, the actual figures are probably much higher, as most doctors prefer to spare families possible pain and public humiliation by attributing the cause of death of elderly relatives to "heart failure" rather than presumed suicide.
Many of those choosing to die are sick, depressed or just lonely and less and less willing to "end their days in an old people's home," she said.
"Some elderly people come to see me just because they are tired of life," Kusch said. "Many people now live longer thanks to progress in medicine. But living on is sometimes seen as senseless. And there are many people over 80 who just don't see the point of going on."
Kusch has more than 100 “really serious” candidates on his list, he said, of whom two-thirds are over 70.
Of the five people he has counseled so far, only one was very seriously ill.
Felger, according to Kusch, was just old. She lived in fear of a crippling fall and was unable to leave her home alone.
She suffered from shortness of breath and "restless legs" syndrome.
The fact that Felger could be considered not seriously ill, added to Kusch's own self-promotion, has angered politicians, social workers and church leaders, and has sparked a lively debate in the media on "the commercialization of assisted suicide."
In July, the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, called for "organized assisted suicide" or "commercialized assisted suicide" to be outlawed. The lower house, the Bundestag, is still mulling over the legal and ethical implications of the issue.
Meanwhile, Kusch promises that he will find ways to get around any future law that prevents him from helping those that are seeking to die.