by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The ongoing and rampant abuse of Switzerland’s assisted suicide laws is causing lawmakers to consider banning the practice in an attempt to reduce so-called “death tourism.”
According to a report by the Guardian, Swiss authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the number of people who are coming to that country to be euthanized, especially after a report released last year showed an incrasing number of people coming to Switzerland to die even though they are not terminally ill.
“We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” said Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the Swiss justice minister, to reporters in Berne.
Too many foreigners are coming to Switzerland to die, she said, many of them assisted in their quest for death by right-to-die organizations such as Dignitas. Even worse, many of these victims were not terminally ill.
For instance, famed British conductor Sir Edward Downes chose to die this year at a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland along with his terminally ill wife, Joan. Daniel James, a 23 year-old former rugby player, chose the same sit to end his life last year rather than live with the paralysis he suffered after a rugby accident.
Presently, the Swiss government is consideringn two revised plans, one which would greatly curtail the practice and another that would ban it outright.
Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf says the government prefers the former plan, which would force groups to follow strict guidelines or risk prosecution. These new rules would include provisions such as requiring patients to have two medical opinions proving their condition is both incurable and would be fatal within months, and that they are capable of making an informed decision about ending their lives.
“It won’t be possible in future for someone to cross the border and commit suicide a few days later with the help of an organization because a minimum amount of time will be required,” she said.
The waiting period would depend upon the individual case, she said, but added: “We want to prevent that someone decides to die on Monday and receives the assistance to do so on Friday.”
Dignitas responded to the proposals, calling them “outdated and “patronizing.”
“By cutting off assisted suicide for chronically or psychologically ill people who are capable of informed choice the government will promote lonely suicides on train tracks, from high bridges and by other inhumane methods,” said Dignitas founder Ludwig A. Minelli.
Official statistics from 2007 show that 1,360 people committed suicide that year, with 400 of them using the services of groups such as Dignitas, of which 132 were foreigners.
Past efforts to restrict the work of assisted suicide groups on a state level in Switzerland resulted in some right-to-die groups offering patients helium-filled plastic bags.
Widmer-Schlumpf said only physician-prescribed medication would be permissible under the government proposal.
The Swiss cabinet, which is divided on the issue, is allowing public comment on the new proposals until March 1. Currently, assisted suicide enjoys widespread support among the population.
“Suicide must only be a last resort. The government believes that protection of human life must be uppermost,” the Swiss justice ministry said in a statement.
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