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German church leaders criticise Dutch euthanasia decision

German church leaders have criticised a recent decision by the Netherlands to legalise euthanasia.

Almost all Catholic and Lutheran bishops used their Easter sermons to say that the new Dutch law contradicts the Christian understanding that suffering is a part of life.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, head of the German bishops' conference, said the new law represents a break with European cultural tradition. He said it opened the door to subtle misuse and reversed the doctor's task of saving lives.

"If we fail to offer those who need the most help any human and medical care and burden them with the decision as to whether they should let themselves be killed, then we are already in the midst of a culture of death," the cardinal said.

The Netherlands legalised euthanasia on 10 April, allowing doctors to put an end to the lives of those who feel their suffering unbearable, providing certain safeguards were met.