A Swiss organization that helps incurably ill people end their lives opened its first office in Germany on Monday over protests from political and religious authorities.
The bureau of Dignitas Deutschland in the northern city of Hanover intends to provide people with information on assisted suicide, said Ludwig Minelli, general secretary of Dignitas and chairman of Dignitas Deutschland.
The goal, he said, is to "bring to Germany the right for responsible people to a self-determined death."
Dignitas Deutschland will not, however, provide either direct or indirect assistance in the actual act of suicide, he said.
Lower Saxony's minister for social issues Ursula von der Leyen and Hanover bishop Margot Kaessmann condemned the organization, saying in a joint statement that it "closes the door to understanding that dying is part of life."
The state justice ministry said it would be watching the organization carefully, but that while assisted suicide is illegal in Germany, setting up a counseling organization is not.
Dignitas was founded in Switzerland seven years ago, where a loophole in the law allows trained counselors to indirectly help with suicide.
The Swiss legislation allows counselors or physicians to prepare a fatal dose of barbiturates, but not pass it to the terminally ill patient or put the glass to their lips.
Dignitas has aided in 453 suicides since it was founded, including 253 people from Germany, the organization said.