Assisted Suicide in Switzerland: duty to provide assistance or right to self-determination

Two recent examples illustrate the dangers of abuse in assisted suicide in Switzerland, confirming the growing pressure to cross over the legal boundaries by using the excuse of individual freedom, even when there is no serious or terminal illness.

Firstly, the Swiss Federal Statistical Office reported 742 cases of assisted suicide, for 2014, more than 2.5 times compared with 2009, and accounting for 1.2% of all deaths in Switzerland that year.

Secondly, at the beginning of October, 2 brothers filed an emergency suit with the Geneva civil court against one of the main Swiss assisted suicide associations, EXIT (the other is Dignitas). The objective of this procedure was to stop their 83-year old brother from killing himself. According to the 2 brothers their sibling is not suffering from any serious illness, and his request is due to a temporary depression. The man who wishes to die mentioned “his disability” due to his advanced age and his grief to have lost “a wonderful wife”.

Initially scheduled for October 18, the assisted suicide has been put on hold by court order. On October 24, the court audience was held, and the family is now awaiting the judge’s decision.

This terrible family dispute highlights what the 2 brothers refer to as the “Exit philosophy»: “People should be aware that cases like this exist”. They add that they prefer to “have a clash with a living brother rather than be in communion with a dead one”.

This is the first case the court has treated since the Exit association decided in April 2014, to extend their pre-requisite conditions to also accept people suffering from “multiple aged-related disabilities”. For the 2 brothers’ lawyer, the ethical standards of the Swiss Academy of Medical Science are not being respected: “There are very strict requirements. The end of life must be imminent and all the possible treatments having failed.

On the contrary, Exit considers that these standards “are not necessarily legally binding”. According to their lawyer, “the right of this person to die supersedes the 2 brothers’ affection for him. Death is a personal affair. We shall all die, then better to die in a dignified manner.”

The Editor-in Chief for the Swiss Medical magazine “Revue”, Bertrand Keifer, makes the following analysis of the case: “Whenever a request for suicide is made, there should be a quandary, on the one hand between the obligation to provide assistance and on the other hand, the respect of self determination. (…) These cases are always complex. Announcing a request for suicide can be an ambivalent message. The family and close friends have the right to wonder whether or not it is a cry for help. (…) Assisted suicide has a traumatic impact on them, they themselves become victims.”



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