SPIEGEL: Mr. Lauterbach, on Thursday two members of the Bundestag suffered a feeble-hit in the plenary hall. They were first responders in both cases. Does something like that happen more often?
Karl Lauterbach: Yes, that was not the first time that I treated emergencies in the Bundestag. Members of the Bundestag suffer from a heavy burden that has a negative impact on health. As a doctor, many colleagues trust each other, across all parties. And what I'm watching worries me.
SPIEGEL: What makes your job so harmful?
Lauterbach: It is the combination of mental stress, physical inactivity and chronic lack of sleep: The working days usually start at eight in the morning and often end after midnight. Breaks are usually not scheduled, during lunch the deputies prepare for the next meeting. Even in session-free weeks it is not better. MEPs have to feed their constituencies, they need to be available to the press and their social media channels, and they usually have to travel a lot. Government delegates typically receive between 70 and 90 hours a week. It is not so bad for the MPs in the opposition.
SPIEGEL: Especially chronic sleep deprivation and chronic stress can lead to psychosomatic suffering. Would not somebody have to tip over regularly?
Lauterbach: Lack of sleep initially leads to a person becoming more susceptible to infections. Two hours less sleep leads to a double chance of catching a cold. However, members of parliament usually do not cure themselves, but still drag themselves to work. There, the fatigued colleagues sit and get infected. Many of my colleagues are permanently cold in winter.
SPIEGEL: So a vicious circle.
Lauterbach: Yes. And many do not know that a permanent lack of sleep of under seven hours per night can also have long-term consequences, such as hypertension. In addition, it is an important risk factor for dementia. During sleep, the glyphatic system is stimulated, which is responsible for the disposal of waste in the brain. If we do not sleep enough, this function is disturbed - the result may be neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
SPIEGEL: You have been sitting for the SPD in the German Bundestag for about 15 years. Are you not afraid of the health risks?
Lauterbach: The longer one is there, the more experience one has - then one goes around with many things more relaxed. Personally, it does not bother me so much that my job is unhealthy. I try to integrate sports into my everyday life from time to time. Of course, this is only possible at impossible times: For example, in the late evening I play table tennis with my training partner.
SPIEGEL: Now you could be accused of choosing your job yourself.
Lauterbach: I see that too. We Members of the Bundestag are not the only ones who have such a workload. Every business consultant probably knows this. With the difference: Business consultants work just for a few years, much like top athletes. On the other hand, there are many MPs who have been doing this for decades, such as Wolfgang Schäuble. He even has a disability and his now relatively old age. You can handle this high load for a few years, but in the long run it is very harmful.
SPIEGEL: So would the state have to better protect the deputies and their health?
Lauterbach: My criticism is not that I want to live healthier, but I want that we can do better work. I am not concerned with MEPs' lifestyle optimization, but that we could deliver better quality if we were organized differently.
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SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Lauterbach: I think that we need to rebuild Parliament so that it has a regulated size and that we limit debates to 11 pm. Nobody is capable of making important decisions after a 15-hour working day. That's exactly what happens frequently. Many MPs also feel that they are always badly prepared because they just do not have the time. I observe that the pace has increased immensely in recent years. I also get this development from my US colleagues.
SPIEGEL: If this seems to be a universal development, how are you going to introduce more slowness in politics?
Lauterbach: We should let unnecessary debates be and concentrate on the essentials. As yesterday Matthias Hauer suffered a feeble attack, it was just about the fact that the cash in Germany should not be abolished - a contribution of AfD. Only: no one has demanded a cash ban before that. Nevertheless, we all have to deal with the motion of the AfD, get used to it, sit in committees - the debates are artificially protracted. Meanwhile, the AfD is world champion in stealing time from the Bundestag with unnecessary debates.
SPIEGEL: So would Members of Parliament be healthier if the AfD did not sit in the Bundestag?
Lauterbach: In any case, one can say that the health burden has become higher since the AfD sits in the Bundestag.