March 3, 2024

Academic proposes Swiss suicide as model for US

Offers potential for demedicalising death

While British doctors may be aghast at the suicide tourism in Switzerland, an American bioethicist has just published a learned defence of the Swiss model of assisted suicide and praises it as superior to Oregon’s. Writing in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Dr Stephen J. Ziegler, of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, gives several reasons.

The Swiss model improves oversight: he is very impressed by the fact that the Swiss police are actively involved in each case. They attend each suicide and check whether the proper procedures have been followed. This contrasts favourably with the Dutch experience where doctors are known to fudge their record-keeping.

The Swiss model reduces physician involvement and increases patient assessment. The Swiss patient’s capacity for making an informed decision is assessed by a prescribing doctor and also two trained personnel, at an initial in-depth interview and when the lethal dose is given to him. It is more of a team effort.

The Swiss model demedicalises death. Patients can die at home. "In a way, [right-to-die] organizations seek to return death to the community like community policing seeks to return the community to its citizens."

Dr Ziegler concludes that Exit, the right-to-die organisation whose methods he has studied, offers a splendid model for the US: "It has, like any human enterprise, made mistakes, but it has also learned from those mistakes. So even though the Swiss model may not be perfect, it certainly has the potential to not only inform the current debate on the legalization and regulation of [physician-assisted suicide] in the United States, it could also help demedicalise the way we die." ~ The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Summer 2009