A motion calling for laws on assisted suicide to be tightened was passed by the German upper house following outrage caused by a former politician helping an elderly woman to die.
Roger Kusch, an ex-senator in Hamburg and a right-to-die campaigner, advised Bettina Schart on how to prepare a deadly cocktail of drugs which the 79-year-old then took last Saturday after he had left her apartment.
AdvertisementSchart was not suffering from any life-threatening illness. The childless woman felt lonely and did not wish to end her days in a nursing home. She procured the drugs herself.
Kusch, a lawyer by profession, made sure he did nothing illegal by filming several hours of conversations and leaving the camera running while she took the lethal mixture in order to prove that he did not administer it himself.
Several days later Kusch appeared before the press and played clips of the his conversations with Schart, causing outrage in a country still haunted by memories of the euthanasia practices of the Nazis.
Bavaria's Justice Minister Beate Merk called the episode "sick and inhumane" while Joerg-Dietrich Hoppe, head of Germany's doctors' federation, branded Kusch an "arrogant cynic."
Helping someone to kill themselves is not illegal in Germany as long as someone does not physically help the person to end the person' life.
Under the proposed new legislation, it will become illegal for any organisation, commercial or otherwise, to help someone kill themselves or even to give them advice on how to do so.
The bill was tabled on Friday not because of the Kusch case, but it has helped to prompt a lively and timely debate in the German media.
It is unclear whether Kusch will find himself on the wrong side of the law if the changes hit the statute books and he repeats his actions with someone else who wants to die.
He is head of an organisation that campaigns for the right to die but he insists that he carried out his actions with Schart in a personal capacity, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said.
Members of the upper house passed a motion indicating that a majority was broadly in favour, but it was decided that the bill needed some modifications before going to a vote.
After the upper house, the bill must then go to the lower house, the Bundestag.