Suicide Tourists Make Swiss Uneasy as Terminally Ill Seek Death

January 25, 2011
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Switzerland is the destination of choice for people from abroad who want to die. The office of the country’s top legal official is pushing to change that.

While assisted suicide is permitted in the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington and Montana, only Switzerland allows doctors to help foreigners end their lives. More than 25 percent of the 380 assisted suicides in Switzerland during 2009 involved foreigners, most of whom died after drinking water laced with a lethal dose of barbiturates.

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Former Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who was replaced by Simonetta Sommaruga in November, has proposed making the practice more difficult by demanding oversight by doctors who aren’t connected with one of the country’s four right-to-die organizations. Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1942.

“Those Swiss politicians who want to change the rules on assisted suicide behave like moral apostles,” said Margrit Weibel, president of Zurich-based suicide organization Ex International. “They are backward-looking people, entangled in the Christian belief that human beings don’t have the right to make decisions on when to end their lives.”

The possibility of the new rules passing is slim as they are opposed by Switzerland’s four biggest political parties. Voters in Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, will decide in May whether to support a ban on assisted suicide. The initiative is backed by the Federal Democratic Union party led by Hans Moser, who also endorses the equal treatment of creationism and evolution in schools.

‘Way Forward’

The Federal Democrats are in the minority. About 73 percent of Swiss people support assisted suicide, even when the person isn

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