Patrick Stuebing and his wife, Susan Karolewski, live in the German city of Leipzig. Patrick’s a locksmith and Susan dotes over their four kids. Patrick and Susan also happen to be brother and sister.
Their case has sparked heated debate in Germany for over a decade. Stuebing has already been convicted three times of incest and has served almost three years in prison. In the latest twist, an influential committee is recommending that incest be legalized. The German Ethics Council argues that genetic risks to a child from an incestuous relationship are not significant enough to justify the law.
The council’s decision is only a recommendation, but it’s one with weight. The German government formed the council in 2007 to handle the meatiest questions of “ethics, society, science, medicine and law” with the goal of recommending “political and legislative action.”
Stuebing and Karolewski have been tabloid fixtures for years in Germany. Newspapers have mocked them as “forbidden lovers of the Fatherland,” while others argued that their sexual freedom was trampled by Nazi-era laws. Their first child was born in 2001, and three of their four kids are in professional care; two are disabled and a third reportedly needed a heart transplant.
After his third conviction for incest, Steubing was sentenced to three years in prison. His legal appeals failed at the Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Stuebing was allowed to keep custody of the fourth child when her husband-brother was in prison.
Incest remains rare in Germany, with an estimate from the Max Planck Institute of 2 to 4 percent of the population having an incestuous experience at some point in their lives. The German Ethics Council noted that many couples are forced to live in secret because of social stigma. The ethics board wrote: “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination has more weight in such cases than the abstract protection of the family.”
Politicians immediately denounced the ruling, though the ethics council is made up of two dozen renowned doctors, scientists and lawyers. “Abolishing criminal punishment against incestuous actions within a family would go completely against protecting the undisturbed development of children,” said a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party to Deutsche Welle.
Stuebing was turned over to foster care when he was 3 after being attacked by his alcoholic father, while Karolewski is only semi-literate. Their sister-brother relationship was discovered by a nurse during the birth of their first child. Karolewski was 16 at the time. Stuebing was 23.
“We didn’t know each other in childhood,” Karolewski told the Daily Mail in 2007. “It’s not the same for us. We fell in love as adults and our love is real. There is nothing we could do about it. We were both attracted to each other and then nature took over from us. It was that simple. What else could we do? We followed our instincts and our hearts.”