The association Exit on the Germanic part of Switzerland (the cantons who speak German) published a report of its’ activity on March 1, 2016; revealing an increase of 30% in the number of assisted suicides performed in 2015, where 782 deaths were provoked. The report of its’ activities on the Romanic side of Switzerland (French-speaking) will be published on April 23, but according to the president, “the situation is absolutely comparable to what we see here. The number of cases has drastically increased in our country”.
Although Switzerland has not legalized euthanasia as in Belgium or The Netherlands, the practice of assisted suicide is tolerated without penal consequences, using a broad interpretation of Article 115 in its’ Penal code dating from 1899, when assistance to suicide is proposed “in absence of selfish objectives”. From a practical point of view, the doctor is not the one who puts to death, but the individual himself who generally does it in front of witnesses.
Compared to 2014, which was already marked by a sharp rise, 199 additional individuals put an end to their life with the German-speaking Exit Switzerland. Among the 782 who died, 55% were women, and 45% were men, with an average age of 77.4 years old. The total number of assisted suicides has doubled to 1000 deaths between 2007 and 2015, and approximately represents 1.5% of the 65,000 deceased in Switzerland.
The number of individuals adhering to Exit keeps increasing year after year, notably due to the ageing population, and Exit’s tendency to ease the conditions for its’ interventions. Up until 2014, Exit only proposed helping individuals with incurable disease or in terminal phase of cancer. Now it is proposed to any individual who says he is suffering from “age-related incapacitating poly-pathologies”. But this extension exceeds the recommendations from the Swiss Academy of Medical Science: “We worry about psychological and social pressure imposed on the aged and their doctors”, said the president of the ethical commission, Professor Christian Kind in 2014.
Regularly the media denounce transgressions especially from foreigners – Germans, French, Italians, etc- who come to Switzerland to commit suicide for various reasons, like this Italian lady who “could no longer stand becoming ugly while ageing.”
The enlargement of the qualification criteria, in the name of the right of self-determination to “choose the moment and the means of one’s own death” is consistent with the initiatives of other similar associations in Belgium or in The Netherlands who lobby for having euthanasia available for every elderly person over 70 years of age “tired of living”.
In Switzerland, Exit has also put pressure on hospitals, clinics and retirement homes who receive public funds to require them to offer assisted suicides within their own structures, without any possibility of objection of conscience: there has been votes in favour of this, initiated by citizens in the Vaud region in 2012 and the Neuchâtel region in 2014.