A doctor is sentenced to several years in prison for helping a woman who was suffering from depression commit suicide. This one wants to go into review.

Accused doctor Christoph Turowski (left) and his lawyer Thomas Baumeyer in the courtroom

She called him “Dr. Death”: Berlin district court convicted doctor Christoph Turowski of involuntary manslaughter Photo: Jörg Carstensen/dpa

SEDAN taz | There was something oppressive about it when Judge Mark Sautter read in his verdict Monday what messages were exchanged between Isabell R. and her suicide assistant and exactly when. That was in those days of July 2021, before former family doctor and internist Christoph Turowski gave the 37-year-old woman a fatal infusion in a hotel, which she then began to turn on a tap herself. Shortly after she was dead.

Turowski, 74, was sentenced on Monday to three years in prison by the Berlin Regional Court for manslaughter as an indirect perpetrator. From the judge's point of view, Isabell R. was unable to form her own will due to her depression. The doctor had “exceeded the limits of what is permissible” by assisting the suicide, Sautter explained. Because there must be “free responsibility” so that assisted suicide goes unpunished. This was determined by the Federal Constitutional Court in its historic 2020 ruling.

Isabell R. was in a psychiatric clinic shortly before she committed suicide. Her first suicide attempt had already occurred on June 24, after she wrote to the doctor almost two weeks earlier to ask if he could help her end her life. Her recurring depressions made her life miserable, she explained. She threatened to hang herself if the doctor did not help her. Turowski received her medication, which he first took at her apartment that day in June, but then vomited. She was then admitted to a psychiatric clinic in the capital against her will.

As Sautter read, she wrote to a friend at the clinic on July 5: “I just spoke to Dr. Death called and he said yes. (the first failed suicide attempt, editor's note) as a sign that I must continue living.” Turowski, whom she calls “Dr. Her “death” had offered him another suicide attempt, with a lethal infusion instead of taking pills. On July 6, she sent a message to the doctor: “Hello, I have decided not to use the method, I believe God still has plans.”

On July 10, he sent a text message from the clinic: “Thank you, I'll stay alive and cancel Monday's appointment.” In between were messages in which he confirmed his desire to commit suicide and pressed to make an appointment. But on July 11 he stated, among other things, “let me hope things get better and better.”

On July 12, the day he left the clinic, for which he had already booked a hotel room to attempt suicide again with Turowski's help, he wrote at 9:30: “Sometimes I think things should turn out well. after all, even when it gets tough.”

He changed his mind in 28 minutes

Then the doctor responded: “I understand your distress, go home.” He never pressured her to commit suicide. But at 9:58 Isabell R. responded: “I would like to do it today, also because the dog is still housed elsewhere.” She was discharged from the clinic and she headed to the hotel room she had previously rented in Lichterfelde. district of Berlin and she called him to a doctor she had known for only a month. She gave him the lethal intravenous line.

The communication shows how unstable Mrs. R. was shortly before her death, Judge Sautter explained on Monday. The fact that she made diametrically opposite statements in a short space of time shows how emotionally unstable she was. The prosecution knew the exact course of the messages because Turowski's mobile phone, iPad and computer were confiscated and evaluated during a house search.

Turowski explained that Isabell R. confirmed her desire to commit suicide in 95 percent of the more than 100 messages she wrote to him. Only 5 percent stated that they wanted to abstain from doing so. As Judge Sautter said, that quantification is inadequate. The quantification does not take into account that R. has “changed his mind repeatedly” “in short periods of time.” Isabell R. changed her mind in 28 minutes on July 12. This makes it clear that her decision was not based on a certain durability and firmness, as jurisprudence assumes for a freely responsible action, Sautter summarized. In July 2021, Isabell R. “was no longer able to make an objective assessment due to illness.”

However, the court did not question the opinion of expert witness Stefan Hütter, who stated that Isabell R. could not be denied in principle the “free formation of her will.” Hütter admitted that there was a restriction, but not an abolition, of free will. The expert also stressed that it cannot be concluded directly from a psychiatric diagnosis or suicidal tendencies that free will has been abolished. “Free will” is a construct and “cannot be measured,” Judge Sautter said.

Before her second suicide attempt, Isabell R. worried whether she would survive, possibly with serious damage. Turowski had reassured her that he would “help” her with her dose even if her second suicide attempt via the infusion threatened to fail. However, injecting it yourself would have been killing on demand, which is generally punishable. The doctor probably would not have done this, but he “falsely” promised Mrs R. that, if necessary, he would help her beyond what was permitted and therefore influenced her, the court ruled.

The verdict is not yet legally binding. Defense lawyer Thomas Baumeyer announced that he would appeal to the Federal Court of Justice. Turowski himself declared after the verdict that no doctor would now provide suicide assistance to a mentally ill person. The only option left would be “violent suicide” without medical help.

If you have suicidal thoughts, talk to someone about it. You can contact the 24-hour telephone advice service (08 00/1 11 01 11 or 08 00/1 11 02 22) or visit www.telefonseelsorge.de.