As has been reported in the press, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany recently issued a ruling making it easier for relatives and others to allow loved ones to die in certain situations. Given the power of the right to dignity and the right to life under the Basic Law, this is significant both there and abroad. The Court reversed the conviction of a lawyer who apparently counseled a client regarding the question of deactivating the intravenous tube of a loved one in a persistent vegetative state. Meanwhile, Solicitor General Elena Kagan is being questioned vigorously in her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing about whether she would look to foreign law in constitutional matters. The German case shows the advantages and dangers. On the one hand, it suggests a growing international consensus regarding the importance of individual autonomy on such matters (the PVS woman had earlier expressed a desire to not be kept alive if such a thing happened). On the other hand, the German jurisprudential and cultural context is quite different so any comparisons must be cautious. Kagan has implied she is not hostile to foreign law, but has tried to downplay the issue.
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