Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scraped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination.
“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
Their intervention follows a notorious case in which a brother and sister living as partners in Saxony had four children together. The couple had been raised separately and only met when the brother, identified only as Patrick S, was an adult, and his sister Susan K was 16.
Patrick S was sentenced to more than three years in prison for incest and the couple have since failed in their bid to have the guilty verdict overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.
The family was forced to live apart after the courts ruled that there was a duty to protect their children from the consequences of their relationship.
Two of the couple’s children are disabled, and it is believed that incest carries a higher risk of resulting in children with genetic abnormalities.
But the Ethics Council dismissed that argument, on the basis that other genetically affected couples are not banned from having children.
The Council said it based its recommendation on extensive research, in which it found many incestuous couples are forced to live in secret.
In one case, it found a woman was being blackmailed by the her father and ex-husband, who threatened to depive her of access to her children unless she ended a new relationship with her half-brother.
Incest remains illegal in the UK and most European countries, although France abolished its incest laws under Napoleon I and there has been growing debate over the taboo in Germany.
Around two to four per cent of Germans have had “incestuous experiences”, according to an estimate by the Max Planck Institute.
But a spokeswoman for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats indicated the government was unlikely to adopt the Ethics Council’s recommendations.
“The abolition of the offense of incest between siblings would be the wrong signal,” said Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, legal policy spokeswoman for the party’s group in parliament.
“Eliminating the threat of punishment against incestuous acts within families would run counter to the protection of undisturbed development for children.”