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Life, even if it is associated with suffering, can never be harm. Life-supporting treatment, for example through artificial nutrition, cannot therefore trigger claims for damages, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe (Az .: VI ZR 13/18) ruled on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. This results from the human dignity enshrined in the Basic Law and the right to physical integrity. According to this, doctors and nursing staff do not have to pay compensation even if they have violated a living will by means of life-supporting measures.
In the specific case, however, there was no living will and there was no other way to determine a patient's will. The patient had been severely demented for a good five years with a PEG gastric tube and then died in October 2011 at the age of 82.
With his lawsuit, the son asked the treating family doctor for pain and suffering and compensation for treatment and care costs, in total more than 150,000 euros. Since the beginning of 2010, his father's artificial nutrition has only led to a senseless prolongation of the illness-related suffering.
The Regional Court of Munich I had dismissed the lawsuit, but the Higher Regional Court of Munich had then awarded the son compensation for pain and suffering in the amount of 40,000 euros (file number: 1 U 454/17; judgment and JurAgentur report dated December 21, 2017). As part of his duties to provide information, the family doctor was required to discuss the continuation or termination of tube feeding with the patient's caregiver. The doctor neglected to do this.
The BGH left open whether the doctor actually violated his duties. "In any case, there is no non-material damage," clarified the Karlsruhe judges. For reasons, they referred to the Basic Law. Human dignity and the right to physical integrity prohibit life from being viewed as "harm, even if it continues to suffer". “Human life is a high-ranking legal asset and absolutely worth preserving. No third party is entitled to judge its value. ”
According to the Karlsruhe judgment, this also applies expressly if an advance directive is available or it is otherwise clear that the patient no longer wishes life-prolonging measures in his current situation. Even then, the Basic Law prohibits the courts from ruling that this life is harmful.
According to the BGH, the son is also not entitled to compensation for treatment costs - even if the doctor should have violated his information obligations. Because these are not there to avoid economic burdens arising from the patient's continued life. "In particular, these obligations do not serve to preserve the patient's assets as undiminished as possible," emphasized the Karlsruhe judges. mwo / fle