Swiss consider ban on assisted suicide because of “death tourists”
The Swiss government is considering restricting or even banning organised assisted suicide in an attempt to reduce so-called "death tourism".
The Swiss government is considering restricting or even banning organised assisted suicide in an attempt to reduce so-called “death tourism”.
Swiss authorities want to ensure euthanasia is a last resort for the terminally ill, amid fears their current laws on assisted suicide could be open to abuse. A study last year suggested more and more people seeking help to die in Switzerland did not have a terminal illness.
“We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” the Swiss justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, told reporters in Berne, adding that more foreigners were travelling to Switzerland to die.
About 100 Britons are believed to have ended their lives at the Swiss clinic of the right-to-die organisation Dignitas, including the conductor Edward Downes and his wife, Joan, and Daniel James, a 23-year-old who was paralysed after a rugby accident.
The Swiss cabinet, which is divided on the emotive issue, sent two proposals into the legislative process for consultation, which will last until 1 March: one for tighter regulation, and the other for an outright ban.
The Swiss parliament is said to prefer the less drastic route, which would set down strict guidelines for assisted dying groups to follow. The new rules would include requiring patients to obtain two medical opinions proving their illness was incurable and probably fatal within months. These doctors must state that the dying person had the mental capacity to assert their wish to die, and prove they had held this wish for some time. The new proposal would also require assisted dying groups to provide better written records to stop organisations profiting from patients wanting to die.
“Suicide must only be a last resort. The government believes that protection of human life must be uppermost,” the Swiss justice ministry said in a statement.
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Assisted suicide should be restricted to the terminally ill and not be available to chronically or mentally ill individuals, the ministry said, adding the government wanted to promote palliative care and suicide prevention.
The new rules would also “prevent organised assisted suicide becoming a profit-driven business,” it said.
Widmer-Schlumpf said a ban could force people to act illegally. But her colleague Pascal Couchepin, head of the federal department of home affairs, said: “For me personally, assisted suicide is a death project, and I support life projects.”
Every year around there are about 400 cases of assisted suicide in Switzerland, 132 of which involve patients from abroad.
Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since the 1940s if performed by an individual who is not a physician and who has no vested interest in the death.
Euthanasia is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and the US state of Oregon.
In July, the right-to-die group Exit agreed rules to govern assisted suicide with prosecutors in the city of Zurich which it hoped might eventually form the basis of national regulation.
The proposals are open for public comment until 1 March, after which the government will send a draft law to parliament.