Assisted Suicide: Destination Switzerland

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Many citizens of various countries who are considering assisted suicide have set their destination to Switzerland. Travelers from the United Kingdom, Germany and even some from the United States are making their final trek to seek help in ending their lives. There is some precedent of legality within the States for this kind of activity, but a majority of the country, and the world, are still perplexed as to how to “comfortably” deal with this kind of odyssey.

Suicide tourism, a term used for those seeking deathly assistance, is on the rise in the past years. Since 2008, hundreds of people have been documented as crossing into Switzerland with suicide as their goal – as many as 172 coming in a single year (2012). Those numbers have added up to around 611 with 44 percent coming from Germany and 21 percent hailing from the United Kingdom. Overall, citizens from 31 different countries sought assistance in Switzerland, including France, Italy, Canada and Israel. Swiss laws regarding the assisted ending of a life offer no rules or constraints as far as which diseases are considered legally eligible for euthanization. The closest the law comes to a regulation is a byline in their medical code that allows it in certain circumstances.

Reasons for assisted suicide seekers to consider Switzerland their final destination vary greatly from person to person. However, some are not even near their deathbeds when seeking that kind of assistance. Some non-fatal neurological diseases, as well as fatal ones, were given as reasons from 47 percent of those that made the journey from 2008 to 2012, the top surveyed category. Rheumatic conditions, such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, were reasons in 25 percent of cases, neither of which is considered fatal. Cancer patients also made the trip, accounting for 37 percent of the total.

Some of the patients with non-fatal diseases look to travel “whilst they are physically well enough to make the journey,” says Michael Charouneau of the U.K. campaign called Dignity in Death. Becoming less mobile is a consequence of waiting that many with non-terminal illnesses are not willing to face, he continues. Others, such as Ruth Horn, a medical ethics researcher at the University of Oxford, argue that the change in view with suicide has led to this acceptance of even non-terminal patients being given the “right to death.”

Legal assisted suicide is a rare practice and is causing several other countries to look at their own medical policies. In the U.S., currently four states—Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont—have legalized approaches to euthanasia, while an international survey of 12 European countries showed that a majority of people are in favor of the practice. That being said, the act of assisted suicide is illegal in the U.K. and Germany, but some cases have been brought to the British House of Lords, giving supporters hope. Charouneau goes so far as to say that the very act of U.K. citizens choosing to venture to Switzerland to die is “one signal that the law is not working here.”

By Myles Gann


New Scientist
The Atlantic City Lab