ZURICH More than 600 non-Swiss residents died of assisted suicide in Switzerland between 2008 and 2012, helped by organizations such as Dignitas. In 2012 alone, the majority came from Germany (77), followed by the UK (29), Italy (22), France (19) and the US (7).
A study by the Journal of Medical Ethics, which looked at data from Zurich University’s Institute of Legal Medicine, found a 40% increase among those seeking to end their lives over the four-year period. According to researcher Saskia Gauthier, an imbalance in national regulations has led to an influx of “suicide tourists” coming to Switzerland. Swiss law does not require a physician to be involved. Nor does it require the recipient to be a Swiss national. These aspects of the law are unique in the world.
Focusing only on foreign suicides, in which the average age was 69, the study noted that out of the 611 cases cited, 268 originated from Germany and 126 from the UK. The next-largest number came from France, followed by Italy, from where cases increased by 11 times during the period. “The main reasons were neurological disease, followed by cancer, rheumatic and cardiovascular diseases,” the report said. According to the Federal Office of Statistics, Swiss residents constituted 508 suicides in 2012; 60% of them were women.
A 2011 referendum called by pro-life opponents of assisted suicide in the Canton of Zurich was overwhelmingly rejected by 85% of voters and the initiative to outlaw it for foreigners was turned down by 78%. But Swiss law remains unclear. Some groups such as Exit, which only helps Swiss residents, have also agreed to assist people over the age of 75 who are not terminally ill. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights called on Bern to clarify its guidelines after an ailing octogenarian failed to convince doctors that she should be allowed to die.
Britain’s 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence – up to 14 years in prison in England and Wales – to assist or encourage suicide. In 2010 the UK Commission on Assisted Dying, also known as the Falconer Commission, pushed for a new regulatory law, while Scotland put forward its own bill last November. In Germany, where euthanasia is illegal, Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a nationwide discussion. The German Medical Association, however, wants to prohibit both euthanasia and assisted suicide.