May 22, 2024

Regulating suicide tourism in Switzerland


Frustrated by the Swiss central government’s lethargy, Zurich’s public prosecutor is drafting legislation to clamp down on “suicide tourism” and to burden assisted suicide groups with red tape and expenses. Last month the Swiss justice minister, Christoph Blocher, decided that a federal law on assisted suicide was not a priority for him, even though the number of foreigners who have killed themselves in Zurich with the help of an organisation called Dignitas increased from 3 in 1999 to 91 in 2003.

Prosecutor Andreas Brunner fears that suicide organisations may not be operating within the law. Since most of their clients spend only a single day in Switzerland, it is very difficult to assess whether they really have a long-standing wish to die. People with mental illnesses may also be ending their lives. The law also stipulates that the patient must administer the poison himself, but in one recent case an assistant poured a fatal dose down a man’s throat.

Brunner plans to force staff at suicide clinics to sit exams on how to help people die without pain. Two medical reports from separate doctors and a certificate to prove their mental fitness would be required. They would also have to share the cost of investigating the deaths — last year’s bill was 273,000 Swiss francs (A$280,000).

Early in February, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences did an about-face on euthanasia and backed assisted suicide for terminally- ill patients. “We still state that assisted suicide is not part of normal medical practice, but we add that there are situations where assisted suicide can be comprehensible,” said the Academy’s president, Werner Stauffacher.