Friday, October 27, 2006

Death tourism booming in Switzerland

Thanks to uncertain ethical guidelines and overly helpful organizations, Switzerland is a leading destination for "death tourists", that is, people wishing to commit suicide. Now the ethics folks want to tighten up some laws, making it more difficult for all but the sickest to come to Switzerland in order to draw their last breath.

Swissinfo reports (the article contains links to a couple of groups providing assisted suicide):
A national ethics commission is recommending that there should be more external controls in place for people using suicide assistance organisations to end their lives.

The Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics says organised suicide assistance should only be permitted for people suffering from serious illnesses.

The commission last year recommended that tighter controls should be introduced on assisted suicides, with organisations carrying them out to be put under state surveillance.

Pressure for such controls has been mounting in recent years, partly because Switzerland has gained a reputation for "death tourism" involving such groups as Exit and Dignitas.

They advise on and facilitate assisted suicide, which has led to increasing numbers of foreigners coming to Switzerland, specifically to die.

The commission, which presented its latest recommendations at a news conference in Bern on Friday, noted that since there was a legal framework for assisted suicide, it was important to make sure that organisations carrying out the practice were properly controlled.

They should not rely excessively on the principle of the free determination of the patient to the detriment of the protection of life.

The commission said that assisted suicide should not be offered in cases of a temporary crisis, mental illness or in which there was outside pressure.

In its assessment, the commission also defined criteria permitting an evaluation of the desire to die and the awareness of persons wanting to commit suicide to fully understand what they were doing.

It insisted in particular on the need for several face-to-face meetings with a person wanting to commit suicide and recourse to a second opinion.

It also said that an assessment based on an exchange of correspondence was not acceptable for ethical reasons.

The commission also warned there were a number of risks that could lead to possible abuse regarding assisted suicide.

It noted that decisions and services offered by organisations should not be motivated by financial gain, and it was unjustified to take advantage of a situation of distress. It also repeated the importance of external controls of the cases handled by assisted suicide organisations.

The Swiss government said earlier this year that legislation governing assisted suicide in Switzerland was sufficient and it had no plans to tighten the rules.

A very ill friend of my father whom I had know for three decades came to Switzerland two years ago just to make use of an assisted suicude group's facilities. He was successful.

The Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences guidelines are here (go to page 6, point 4.1).