Koch v. Germany |2012

Justice for widower whose rights were breached in assisted dying case

. . . [B.K.] wished to end what was, in her view, an undignified life by committing suicide with [Ulrich’s] help.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, July 2012


Ulrich Koch and his late wife, B.K., were together for more than 25 years. 

In 2002, B.K. was left almost totally paralysed after she fell outside her home. From then on, she needed a ventilator to breathe and constant care from others.

B.K. eventually decided that she wanted to end her life. In late 2004, she asked the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices for a lethal dose of medication with which she could end her life at home.

Her wish was not granted. The Federal Institute said that, under German drugs law, medicine could not be provided to help a person end their life.

Several months later, B.K. and Ulrich travelled from their home in Germany to Switzerland. The journey took ten hours and B.K. had to travel lying on her back on a stretcher.

B.K. ended her life in Zurich, on 12 February 2005, with the help of the Swiss assisted-suicide organisation Dignitas. 

After B.K.’s death, Ulrich took legal action against the Federal Institute. He was convinced that the decision to refuse his late wife’s request had been unlawful. 

In 2006, a court refused to consider Ulrich’s complaint. It said that he did not have the right to take legal action because he could not claim that his own rights had been violated. 

After a failed appeal, Ulrich turned to Germany’s constitutional court, which, in 2008, ruled that Ulrich could not bring a case based on his wife’s right to human dignity after her death. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that the German courts’ refusal to fully consider Ulrich’s complaints was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The European court did not establish a right to assisted dying. 


Ulrich was able to have the legal proceedings in Germany reopened thanks to the European court’s judgment in his case.

In 2017, a German court found that the Federal Institute’s decision to refuse B.K.’s request was unlawful because it failed to assess whether she was in “extreme distress”, a situation which, under strict conditions, could make the acquisition of substances needed for assisted dying compatible with German law. 



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