Swiss Assisted Suicide Clinic facing lawsuit and questions concerning foreign suicides

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The shocking news that two healthy American sisters died by assisted suicide in Switzerland is opening new questions about assisted suicide and the Pegasos suicide clinic.

On March 23 I wrote about the deaths of Lila Ammouri (54) and Susan Frazier (49). They were sisters who traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to Basel, Switzerland on February 3, and died by assisted suicide on February 11 at the Pegasos suicide clinic.

An article by Barbie Latza Nadeau that was published by the Daily Beast on April 4 further investigates the Pegasos suicide clinic and uncovers a lawsuit that was launched by the family of Krista Atkins who died by assisted suicide at the Pegasos clinic in June 2020.

Nadeau wrote in her article:

The story of the Arizona sisters has started a global conversation about the ethics of high-dollar assisted suicide for those who are not terminally ill. Harry Nelson, a health lawyer in the United States, and author of The United States of Opioids: A Prescription for Liberating A Nation in Pain, told The Daily Beast that he hopes media attention given to the Arizona sisters will shame Switzerland into changing its rules, which allow foreigners to engage in what he calls “suicide tourism.”

Nadeau then outlines several inconsistencies with the deaths of Ammouri and Frazier including inconsistent messages from the sisters and continues with information about the lawsuit that has been filed by the family of Krista Atkins.

Pegasos is currently embroiled in a legal suit with family members of another client, Krista Atkins, an American who Nitschke confirms hired the clinic in June of 2020. A family member told The Daily Beast her bank records show that she paid $15,000 to Pegasos between November 2019 and May 2020, and an additional $2,500 to Flemming Schollaart, founder of the Right to Die Society in Denmark, who they say drove from Denmark to Zurich airport to meet her and served as the witness—a requirement by Pegasos. The Daily Beast sent emails and left messages with the Right to Die Society but did not receive a response.

Atkins’ scheduled death happened at a time when international travel was restricted by COVID-19, which raises questions about how she was able to get permission to travel to Switzerland. In the legal action Atkins’ brother is filing against the company, it is claimed that Pegasos advised her to use a Red Cross loophole to enter the country for health reasons. The family says that Atkins, who was 40, was physically healthy but suffered from alcoholism and severe mental illness with suicidal ideation, which she did not disclose to Ruedi Habegger of Pegasos.

Shortly before her death, the family claims to have reached out to Pegasos and informed them of Atkins’ history with mental illness—complete with a letter stating there were medical records of her hospitalizations in the U.S. Nitschke, who also helped facilitate Atkins’ death, confirmed that the family was angry. “She has an unhappy brother who is a professor of medicine, and he did not take it well,” Nitschke told The Daily Beast, adding that he regretted the legal entanglement the parties were in.

It is important to note the involvement of Philip Nitschke with the Pegasos suicide clinic in Switzerland. Nitschke is a long time promoter of suicide including troubled teens. Nadeau continues:

Atkins’ family members are livid after alleging that their mental health warnings were ignored. The family told The Daily Beast. “While I understand Pegasos’ service may seem altruistic, I believe their vetting process is too loose and needs to be tightened, especially in cases involving those suffering from mental illness. While Krista may have mentioned her depression to Ruedi in her application, she did not fully disclose to Pegasos the severity of her mental illness diagnosis which resulted in her hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital in early 2020.” Pegasos and Exit International do not dispute that Atkins paid for their services, but say she passed all their requirements–and confirm that she paid her fee in full.

It is true that Switzerland has never had a residency requirement for people who die by assisted suicide. The deaths at Swiss assisted suicide clinics are particularly concerning now that Oregon has decided to remove its residency requirement. Many states have, year after year, rejected bills to legalize assisted suicide and now Oregon will make it possible for people to fly to Oregon, like Switzerland, to die by assisted suicide. 

It is my hope that people will realize how assisted suicide undermines protection in law for vulnerable people and it is a form of abandonment of people at their greatest time of need.

Editor’s note. This appeared on the blog of Mr. Schadenberg and is reposted with permission.