Assisted Suicide

Swiss assisted suicide groups concerned that “stricter” rules will discourage suicide tourism

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

An article by Kuoru Udo published by Swissinfo.ch on July 26 explains that Switzerland’s new assisted suicide guidelines may lead to fewer suicide tourists. 

Udo introduces the issue with the story of Alex Pandolfo who lives in the UK with early onset dementia.

Sixty-eight-year-old Pandolfo lives in the UK. When he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer disease in 2015, Lifecircle, an assisted suicide organisation in Basel, gave him the green light and accepted his request for assisted suicide. He plans to go to Switzerland when “the time has come”.

Under the old rules, he would have had to stay in Basel for just a few days to complete his plan, but the new ‘two-week-rule’ makes it a lot more expensive. “People who don’t have enough money will be put off by it,” Pandolfo told SWI swissinfo.ch.

Udo explains that last May the Swiss Medical Association agreed to a new set of guidelines for assisted suicide that state: 

  • The physician must – other than in justified exceptional cases – conduct at least two detailed discussions with the patient separated by an interval of at least two weeks.
  • The symptoms of the illness and/or functional impairment must be unbearable, the severity of which is to be substantiated by a legitimate diagnosis and prognosis.
  • Assisted suicide for healthy persons is not medically or ethically justifiable.

Previous guidelines did not require a two week interval and they permitted assisted suicide for otherwise healthy people.

Swiss assisted suicide groups are opposed to the new guidelines. Lifecircle president Erika Preisig opposes the ‘two-week-rule’ which she thinks is especially difficult for suicide tourists. Udo reports:

Even though Lifecircle offers the first meeting online, Preisig thinks it could still be a problem for some people. “Most of our patients are elderly who may not know how to conduct an online meeting. Some don’t even have a smartphone,” she notes. That means they would be obliged travel to Switzerland two weeks before their scheduled assisted suicide. And this would be particularly expensive for people with disabilities as they would have to cover the cost for their special care during the two weeks between consultations.

Dignitas, who specialize in foreign suicides, told Udo that: 

“the new guideline shifts from putting weight on the patient’s personal view as justification for a physician to support the request for assisted suicide towards a more medical-diagnosis-classification of suffering.”

Switzerland’s  largest assisted suicide group, Exit, told Udo that:

psychosocial problems can also be a legitimate factor in wishing to end one’s life.

Udo reported that EXIT spokeswoman Muriel Düby said: 

neither the Swiss medical fraternity nor the patients and assisted suicide organisations were given the chance to react to the new guidelines. “Even after the draft was approved by the highest authorities of SAMS, it was still classified as secret.”

The Swiss Medical Association appears to be wanting to curtail assisted suicide for people who are not sick or dying and yet the language of the guidelines are open to interpretation. Since the decision is based on “intolerable suffering” which is not objective, therefore assisted suicide for healthy people may continue under these guidelines. 

The requirement that there be at least two discussions no less than two weeks apart will slow down the assisted suicide approval process, even though one of the assisted suicide groups stated that the first discussion is done online. 

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

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