updated 6/25/2010 9:50:24 AM ET 2010-06-25T13:50:24

Germany's Supreme Court has issued a landmark ruling that an assisted suicide can not be punished if it is carried out based on a patient's prior request.

The court on Thursday acquitted a lawyer who had counseled his client in 2007 to cut the tube feeding her mother, who had been in a non-responsive coma for five years. A lower court had handed the lawyer a nine-month suspended sentence.

The high court said the then 71-year-old woman had expressed the wish not to be kept alive under such circumstances in 2002 before falling into the coma.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger welcomed the ruling as a major step toward respecting an individual's free will.

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