Criminal Liability of Third Parties with Regard to Free-Responsible Suicide: New Developments in the German Jurisdiction

Author:Henning Lorenz
Henning Lorenz
Research assistant
Doctoral student
Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg
Criminal Liability of Third
Parties with Regard to
Free-Responsible Suicide:
New Developments in the German Jurisdiction*1
1. Introduction
‘There is no doubt that the sentence administered justice in the concrete case, but at the same time it opened
the way for many future wrong decisions in this area.’*2 These were the words with which former law pro-
fessor Rudolf Schmitt reviewed the judgement of the Federal Court of Justice as to the criminal liability of
third parties in the context of free-responsible suicide in the Wittig case. His pessimistic prediction did not
remain valid for long. Quite to the contrary, it seemed that the judgement remained without supporters
until 2016. In that year, the regional courts of appeal of Hamburg and Berlin decided to open a trial based
on it.*3 The district court of Hamburg and of Berlin delivered judgements in the rst instance in late 2017
and early 2018, respectively. This paper is about these new developments within German jurisdiction. After
a brief overview of the basics of suicide and German criminal law (in Section 2., the Wittig case (in Sec-
tion 3.) and the two recent cases (in sections 4. and 5.) are presented. The paper ends with a conclusion and
thoughts on the future (6.).
2. Basics of suicide and German criminal law
‘Whoever kills a human being without being a murderer, shall be punished for manslaughter with impris-
onment for not less than ve years’ states Section 212 of the German Criminal Code*4. At rst glance, this
is irritating. Someone who commits suicide kills a human being – namely, himself. If we strictly refer to
This paper is an extended version of a lecture given on .. at the University of Tartu in the context of the doctoral
seminar titled ‘Common Problems of Medical Law and Criminal Law’. Special thanks go to Prof. Sootak and Ants Nõmper
for their kind invitation to the seminar and to Estonia.
R. Schmitt, Der Arzt und sein lebensmüder Patient [‘The Doctor and His Tired-of-Life Patient’]. – Juristenzeitung /,
pp. , on p. .
Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht (Hanseatic Regional Appeal Court), decision from .. Ws / = Zeitschrift
für Medizinstrafrecht /, pp. ; Kammergericht Berlin (Court of Appeal for Berlin), decision from ..
Ws / AR / = Zeitschrift für Medizinstrafrecht /, pp. .
The sections referred to below are from the German Criminal Code when no other law is mentioned.

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