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01 Jan 2002 00:00
Beautiful lakeside Zurich has offered an ironic glimmer of hope to people looking for a one-way ticket to the end of the line—suicide.
Switzerland’s economic heartthrob is now known as an easy destination to end your life, the capital of what critics call “death tourism”.
And the cost of the journey is cheap—25 to 50 Swiss francs (16 to 32 euros/dollars) to join one of the associations that operate under euphemistic names such as “Exit”, “Dignitas” or “SuiziHilfe,” or suicide help.
They do not advertise but have become widely known.
Switzerland legalised assisted suicide in 1987 but has kept a low profile about the practice, so low that it was largely ignored when the Netherlands legalised mercy killings earlier this year and was hailed as the first country in the world to do so. A technicality however makes Switzerland the preferred destination.
Here a suicide candidate needs the approval of only one doctor, in the Netherlands they need two.
“Let’s be clear about this, we don’t help with suicide here by simply pushing a button,” said Zurich lawyer Ludwig Minelli who heads Dignitas, whose slogan is “Live with dignity, die with dignity.”
“The entire process is relatively long.
The overall procedure is simple. A candidate pays the requisite fee to join Dignitas or one of the other similar associations, which then handles the rest.
At Dignitas, a candidate must explain why he wants to end his life and provide medical documents on his state of health. Dignitas then looks for a doctor willing to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine.
“If the candidate is depressed, we require him to take several weeks to reconsider his decision,” said Minelli.
But for those with a clear mind, everything can happen within 12 hours after his arrival in Zurich.
A candidate first meets with a Dignitas doctor, then goes to a Zurich apartment that belongs to the association. There, he takes the dose that will end his days, prescribed by the doctor and prepared by a volunteer nurse who works for the association. The candidate waits quietly for the end, in the presence of two witnesses.
After death, police are notified and a judicial investigation is always opened.
Up to now, every enquiry has resulted in a dismissal—but this has far from exonerated the practice in everyone’s eyes.
Chief prosecutor of the canton of Zurich Andreas Brunner disparagingly refers to the business as “death tourism” and insists it must be better regulated.
Though the Zurich associations have kept a low profile, they shot into the public eye with two recent documentaries by Britain’s BBC and German television.
The BBC program, broadcast in August, triggered such interest in Britain that more than 700 people contacted the station for more information, according to Dignitas which said it was approached by 40 of these people.
Last year, Dignitas helped 50 people to die, 39 of whom came from outside the country, notably from Germany.
One of the other groups, Exit, refuses such “death tourism” and unlike Dignitas’ practice of accepting foreigners, Exit only takes Swiss candidates.
Dignitas wants to help anyone “who is looking for a place to put his body,” said Minelli.
“You must understand that you can no longer commit suicide today by swallowing pills,” he said. “They are made today so they are no longer necessarily lethal when taken in heavy doses.”
His group, he said, ensures certain death.
“People who take heavy doses of barbiturates sometimes slump into a coma for three to six months, then wake up with serious handicaps,” he said.
He insisted that Dignitas would not help people who simply want to die because they are tired of life.
“We have not found any doctor yet who will prescribe the required dose for such people.” Instead, the group helps mainly the terminally ill or old people who have become seriously impaired and can no longer live normally. - Sapa-AFP
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