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dignitas, assisted suicide clinic
Steffen Schmidt/AP/Keystone
A June 17, 2009, file photo shows a house in Pfaeffikon near Zurich, Switzerland, where the
medically assisted suicide organization Dignitas accompanies people, willing to die, into

Swiss Government May Restrict or Even Ban Assisted Suicide

October 30, 2009 07:00 AM
by Colleen Brondou
After a study revealed that several people seeking assisted suicide in Switzerland didn’t have a terminal illness, the Swiss cabinet is reconsidering assisted suicide laws.

Switzerland Wants to Reduce “Death Tourism”

In response to findings that more foreigners are going to Switzerland to die, and more and more people seeking help to die didn’t have a terminal illness, Swiss authorities are considering whether to restrict or even abolish assisted suicide in their country.

"We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism," Swiss justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters in Berne, according to the Guardian. There are about 400 cases of assisted suicide in Switzerland every year; one-third of these patients come from outside the country.

Rather than a ban, the Swiss parliament is leaning toward creating tighter restrictions for organized assisted suicide groups to follow. As Helen Pidd explains for the Guardian, the new regulations would require that patients have two medical opinions asserting that their illness is incurable and most likely fatal within a matter of months. These medical opinions must show that the person had the “mental capacity to assert their wish to die,” and demonstrate that they had this desire “for some time,” Pidd writes.

The new regulations would also require assisted suicide groups to maintain more accurate written records and cooperate with any investigations or prosecutions that might result. The Swiss justice ministry said that it “believes that protection of human life must be uppermost,” and that the new rules would “prevent organised assisted suicide [from] becoming a profit-driven business,” the Guardian reports.

The proposals will be under consideration until March 1, 2010.

Background: Assisted suicide in the headlines

After Daniel James, a 23-year-old rugby star, was paralyzed during training in 2007, he “found his life so unbearable and had tried to commit suicide three times,” his mother, Julie James, told the Daily Telegraph in October 2008. Both of Daniel’s parents traveled with him to an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland where he died on Sept. 12, 2008. After his death, his parents were placed under police investigation, due to the fact that assisted suicide is illegal in Britain.

But in December 2008, the Daily Telegraph reported that Daniel’s parents would not face charges “because they had pleaded with him ‘relentlessly’ to change his mind.”

In February, a British Appeals Court refused to assure Debbie Purdy, a 45-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis, that her husband would not face charges if he accompanied her to a Swiss suicide clinic. Purdy prevailed on appeal to the House of Lords, and in September 2009, Britain’s Department of Public Prosecutions issued guidelines on prosecuting suicide cases.

When British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife, Joan Downes, died with assistance at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland in July, the debate over assisted suicide was rekindled again. Edward, 85, had lost his vision and hearing, and Joan, 74, had been diagnosed with cancer.

Reference: Where is assisted suicide legal?

According to Derek Humphry, author of one of the most well-known books on euthanasia, “Final Exit,” there are only four places in the world that “openly and legally, authorize active assistance in dying of patients.” The state of Oregon has allowed physician-assisted suicide since 1997. Switzerland has allowed physician and non-physician assisted suicide since 1941. Belgium has allowed “euthanasia” since 2002 but “does not define the method,” according to Humphry. And the Netherlands has allowed voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide since 2002, though it was “permitted by the courts since 1984,” Humphry writes.

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