A government-backed committee in Germany has recommended that the government abolish laws criminalizing incest between siblings, arguing that such bans impinge upon citizens' rights to sexual self-determination. According to findings from the German Ethics Council, that right is a "fundamental" one, and carries more weight than society's "abstract protection of the family."
"Incest between siblings appears to be very rare in Western societies according to the available data but those affected describe how difficult their situation is in light of the threat of punishment," the council said in a statement, as reported by The Independent. “In the case of consensual incest among adult siblings, neither the fear of negative consequences for the family, nor the possibility of the birth of children from such incestuous relationships can justify a criminal prohibition."
The question of abolishing incest laws arose on appeal in the case of a man named Patrick Stuebing, who has four children with his sister, Susan Karolewski. The two did not grow up together and met when Stuebing was 24 and Karolewski was 16, and have been romantic partners for several years. Stuebing was convicted of incest in 2008 and attempted to appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights, to no avail. Karolewski was allowed to keep custody of the couple's youngest child, but the other three were taken into care by the state. Two of the children are disabled, although it is unknown if incest is the cause.
The couple's plight highlighted the "tragic situation" many incestuous pairs find themselves in, according to the council. It does not seem as if the government will agree, however, or if it will take the committee's recommendation. A spokesperson for Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats party suggested the government is unlikely to abolish incest laws.
“The abolition of the offense of incest between siblings would be the wrong signal,” Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, legal policy spokeswoman for the party’s group in parliament, said in a statement. “Eliminating the threat of punishment against incestuous acts within families would run counter to the protection of undisturbed development for children.”