“The answer cannot be the death cocktail”

At present, fundamental questions about life and death are on the political agenda. In an interview, the head of the Catholic Office in Berlin, Karl Justen, calls for respect for life – whether it's organ donation, suicide or Down syndrome.

CBA: Prelate Justen, in the Bundestag as well as in the Federal Prison Court, several fundamental ethical questions about life and death are on the agenda these days. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are essential for Christians to understand these ies, which are celebrated during Holy Week and the Easter days. How does the church look at life in a very fundamental way?

Prelate Karl Justen (head of the Catholic Office in Berlin): According to Christian understanding, life is first and foremost a gift, but also a challenge. At the same time, we Christians are called upon to love our neighbors in a special way. That is why the church is involved in social and charitable work to alleviate suffering. This happens, for example, in numerous hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.
CBA: How do you rate the way politics deals with the ies of life and death??

Justen: In the discussion of ethically explosive ies, Parliament repeatedly demonstrates a high sense of responsibility and sensitivity, regardless of the solutions arrived at by the majority in each case. This has recently been shown, for example, in the strengthening of palliative and hospice care, in order to alleviate severe suffering and to accompany people on their last journey, or in the very moderate handling of the difficult subject of assisted suicide. The commitment of many members of parliament is very impressive for me.

CBA: Organ donation is currently being debated. According to the ideas of German Health Minister Jens Spahn and other members of parliament, all citizens should automatically be considered organ donors in the future, unless they object during their lifetime.

Justen: Organ donation is an act of charity. But the so-called objection solution would just undermine this, because a donation presupposes voluntariness. But the state claims a right of access for itself.

CBA: Because it is a matter of life and death …

Justen: But that does not justify the interference in the personal integrity of a human being in the process of dying.

CBA: From a Christian point of view, however, is there not a duty?

Justen: No, it is and remains an extraordinary act of charity to which no one has a claim, and to which there is no moral obligation. Nevertheless, we should convince people to seriously consider this important ie and help provide the necessary information.
CBA: What about assisted suicide, which is now being dealt with by the Federal Interrogation Court? Don't the freedom and right of self-determination of the individual have to be respected here as well??
Justen: Of course! It is precisely the protection of the autonomy of people in particularly vulnerable phases of life that is at stake here, help and accompaniment in dying. As Christians, we will do everything we can to focus on the love of life, even on this last stretch of the journey, in order to make dying in dignity possible. In the hospices it is shown that death wishes for real care usually fade away again. In a caring society, the answer to the very real worries and needs of seriously ill and dying people cannot be a death cocktail, but rather very concrete offers of help, accompaniment and support – and this individually according to the wishes of those affected. We still have a lot to do there.
CBA: However, in a ruling, the Federal Administrative Court emphasized the right of personality and, in extreme cases, requires the provision of a means of killing.

Justen: According to our conviction, the state is already obliged to protect life according to the constitution. He cannot possibly enter into an evaluation of people's lives and suffering as required by the court. Because not only according to our Christian conviction, but also according to our Basic Law, every human life is worthy of protection – no matter in which danger it is, no matter how weak, sick or needy a person may be.

CBA: The Bundestag has now debated whether the blood test for early detection of Down syndrome should be covered by the statutory health insurance fund.

Justen: We have fundamental reservations about this test, because it is an instrument of selection. It has no meaning for therapy: there is no remedy for the syndrome. A positive test result is usually followed by abortion. By what right? A person with Down syndrome is a creature of God like all other human beings and has the same right to life.

CBA: With what claim can the church demand its convictions from non-believers??

Justen: As part of this society, we are allowed to demand a discussion about how it changes when, for example, it carries out nationwide prenatal screenings for a variety of possible diseases and thus sets certain selection mechanisms in motion. In addition, we always base our demands on the image of man – for example, his unavailability for others. This can be understood by everyone from their life experience. In any case, I experience again and again that our statements generate a lot of thoughtfulness even among those who would not necessarily say that they belong to the Church.

CBA: What role does faith play?

Justen: It shapes a holistic image of the human being and creates the basis of values. It gives hope and confidence. It is precisely in this way that the church contributes to the well-being of the community, democracy and humanity in society.

CBA: Yet it often fails with its claims.

Justen: Of course, the sexual abuse of children has made it clear how much we have failed in our own demands. But despite all the humility that this failure demands of us, we should nevertheless make an offer within the framework of a plural society. I still often hear: Stick to your convictions. We have to make a compromise. But you make sure that the protection of life is maintained at a high level in society. That, too, is part of the service of the church.

CBA: Does the Church still enjoy credibility after the abuse scandals?

Justen: The abuse scandal is terrible and demands a profound repentance, with the admission of grave sin and guilt combined with efforts to come to terms with it comprehensively. The more truthfully we do this, the more we will be listened to.

CBA: What consequences do you see for the Church?

Justen: We must understand in a completely new way that the Church alone is there for the salvation of man – right up to the margins of society, as the Pope admonishes us. Any protection of the institution for its own sake is thus at the same time a betrayal of this mission. In concrete terms, this means taking the perspective of the victim, the refugee, the poor, the sick and suffering, the one in need of redemption. This is what the Holy Days and Easter remind us of every year in a special way – because Christ Himself acts in this way towards us.

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