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An Assistant to the Dying Who Loved Life

Obituary for Uwe-Christian Arnold

Uwe-Christian Arnold 2015 bei der Aktion "Lassen Sie das doch den Klempner machen!" vor der Frankfurter Paulskirche


Uwe-Christian Arnold 2015 during the campaign "Lassen Sie das doch den Klempner machen!" in front of the Paulskirche in Frankfurt

He would have been so happy to participate in the oral hearing of the Federal Constitutional Court on § 217 StGB in the coming week, but his cancer was too far advanced: Yesterday, Friday, Uwe-Christian Arnold, "Germany's best-known suicide assistant", died in his apartment in Berlin. On the evening before his death he issued his statement for the Federal Constitutional Court, his political legacy. An obituary by Michael Schmidt-Salomon.

Uwe-Christian Arnold, whom everyone only called "Christian", was an extraordinary person, a fearless fighter for self-determination at the end of life, a "notorious troublemaker" who did not allow himself to be disciplined by the conservative regulations of the medical chambers, an incorrigible jokester who did not shy away from ribald humour, an empathetic doctor who stood by people in their hardest hours, and last but not least a friend on whom one could rely one hundred percent. Behind his hard shell he hid a soft heart. The fates of his patients often burdened him much more than he would have publicly admitted. And as vigorously as he could drag the representatives of the "death and suffering extension cartel" with their "multi-billion-dollar business", he would have given his last shirt to those in need.

I met Christian 10 years ago at a meeting of "Dignitas" and "Dignitas Deutschland" at the headquarters of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung. At first I didn't really know what to think of this somewhat rough man with the typical Berlin bluntness, but then I quickly realized that he was sharp as a tack and had his heart in the right place. Christian gave his first programmatic lecture on the "Right to Last Aid" in April 2013 at the gbs foundation headquarters "Haus Weitblick" in Oberwesel. We agreed back then that I would help him write a book. And so Christian told me a few months later in long, intensive sessions about his life and his work as a doctor and helper to the dying. I studied the cases he had handled and the charges that had been filed against him. And we met with some of his patients. Finally, I was also present at one of his suicide escorts, which touched me deeply.

Working together on the book "Letzte Hilfe: Ein Plädoyer für das selbstbesterben" ("Last Aid: A Plea for Self-Determined Dying"), which was published by Rowohlt-Verlag in October 2014 - just in time for the start of the "Letzte Hilfe" campaign "Mein Ende gehört mir" ("My End Belongs to Me") - brought Christan even closer to me. I was amazed at the enthusiasm with which he could tell of old feature films that he still laughed about, or of moving opera and jazz performances that made his eyes glow even decades later. Christian loved good books, good music, good food, and good wine, but despite all the joie de vivre he displayed, you could always feel the enormous strain that he was under. Christian was the only doctor in Germany who had accompanied several hundred seriously suffering people during their suicide and had experienced both touching and comforting moments as well as unspeakable misery - and all of this without any professional assistance! Except for Helga, his wife, and a few friends, he could not talk to anyone about his experiences as a suicide assistant. At some point I realized that Christian was solving this problem in his very own way - for example, by calling us again and again to tell us the latest jokes he had just picked up somewhere. I will never forget his high pitched, long "Haaaahaaaa", which followed every punch line. It was Christian's form of psychotherapy.

Especially in the years 2014 and 2015 Christian fought fiercely for the right to self-determination at the end of life and for a humane culture of dying. During this time he has given countless interviews, visited talk shows, participated in panel discussions and film documentaries. He was hopeful that 80 percent of citizens were in favour of liberalizing euthanasia. The fact that the German Bundestag, contrary to this public opinion, passed the "Law on the Criminality of Commercial Promotion of Suicide" at the end of 2015, which prohibits any form of professional suicide assistance and catastrophically abandons severely suffering people, hit him hard.

Christian therefore waited with great impatience for the opening of the proceedings on the constitutional complaints against the "Euthanasia Prevention Act" §217 of the German Criminal Code (StGB). He was to present a statement to the Federal Constitutional Court during the oral hearing next Tuesday and Wednesday. But the cancer from which he had been suffering for a long time, was getting to him more and more. He fought against it, but in the last two weeks it gradually became apparent that he would hardly be able to travel to Karlsruhe anymore. I therefore suggested that he formulate his opinion in writing and have it read out by his lawyer during the hearing. We spoke about his text for the Federal Constitutional Court on Thursday evening in our very last telephone conversation. Christian told me that, despite high doses of morphine, the pain had become so unbearable that it no longer made sense to delay death any longer. I knew what that meant. It was one of the saddest conversations I ever had.

Christian was for us, the directors and the business management of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung, not only an important comrade-in-arms, but also a part of the family. On Friday morning, as he had promised, he once again called Herbert Steffen, the founder of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung, to say goodbye. After a last "Servus" Christian turned up the infusion. A little later he fell asleep peacefully. When asked if there was anything else I could do for him, he replied on Thursday: "I don't need a obsequies or a monument, but please continue what I started! That we will do. Guaranteed.


Excerpt from the statement by Uwe-Christian Arnold for the Federal Constitutional Court (written on 11.4.2019, one day before Christian's death, translated from German):

(...) I have helped hundreds of people die, so I have been confronted with the full spectrum of suffering associated with serious diseases of all kinds. Unfortunately, I will no longer be able to share this knowledge because of my own severe illness. However, my book "Letzte Hilfe - Ein Plädoyer für das selbstbestimmte Sterben" gives a good impression of these different personal fates and also of the necessity of a humane euthanasia. It is, if you will, my political testament.

I can hardly imagine that someone who read this book with sense and sensibility could continue to defend the retention of § 217 StGB. Therefore, I ask you, honoured judges, to engage with the individual fates described in "Letzte Hilfe" - and only then make your decision! Please do not close your eyes to reality by being blinded by the "myth of natural death". We will all have to die sometime - and this should be done with the help of an experienced doctor as painless and self-determined as possible, not painful and heteronomous! Don't deny people their "last human right" to a dignified death!

Uwe-Christian Arnold
(1944 -2019)