A recent magazine feature suggests that the business of “assisted suicide” is now attracting people who are not terminally ill. In Switzerland, the numbers of people travelling from abroad to die are growing dramatically. Even more disturbing is the fact that the reasons they cite in seeking suicide are growing beyond inevitably terminal illness to include traditionally manageable conditions.
A recent magazine feature suggests that the business of “assisted suicide” is now attracting people who are not terminally ill.
In Switzerland, the numbers of people travelling from abroad to die are growing dramatically. Even more disturbing is the fact that the reasons they cite in seeking suicide are growing beyond inevitably terminal illness to include traditionally manageable conditions.
For years, the Swiss government has adopted a hands-off attitude to the business. Assisting suicide in Switzerland is technically illegal, but the law punishes only those with selfish motives–which has turned out to be nearly impossible to prove in Swiss courts. This has, in practice, led to a system where anyone can assist in a suicide with essentially no restriction on whose suicides they facilitate. Assisting suicide is legal in only a handful of jurisdictions in the USA and Europe.
The New Scientist magazine article, ‘Non-fatal diseases increasingly drive assisted suicide’ reports “An ongoing study of assisted suicide in the Zurich area has found that the number of foreign people coming to the country for the purpose is rising. 123 people came in 2008 and 172 in 2012. In total 611 people came over that period from 31 countries, with most coming from Germany or the UK, with 44% and 21% of the total respectively. ”
“Neurological diseases, only some of which are fatal, were given as the reason for 47% of assisted suicides for 2008 to 2012, up from 12% between 1990 and 2000. Rheumatic or connective tissue diseases, generally considered non-fatal, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, accounted for 25% of cases in the new study. Between 1990 and 2000, they were cited in only 10% of cases. There was also a tiny rise in the number of people coming to Switzerland because of mental health problems – 3.4% in the latest study, up from 2.7%. Cancer was cited in 37% of cases between 2008 and 2012, a decrease of 10%.”
According to the Swiss government, “Assisted suicide is resorted to when life no longer appears worth living for the person concerned, in particular due to a serious physical illness.” This legal vagueness has made Switzerland attractive to outside groups who promote suicide. The leading promoter of suicide tourism is Dignitas, but an increasing number of other businesses arrange trips for potential suicide victims.
The New Scientist article quotes UK suicide advocate Michael Charouneau “We know that many of those who travel do so earlier than they would wish, whilst they are still physically well enough to make the journey.”
The UK laws on assisted suicide are complex, and in most US states it is illegal. But doctor prescribed suicide is legal in Washington State — where there was a 43 percent rise in doctor-prescribed suicides in 2013. In a trend similar to that in Switzerland, other concerns, not pain from a terminal illness, are motivating the requests for suicide. It is also legal in Oregon and Vermont.