The founder of the Swiss non-profit association for assisted suicide, Dignitas, 85-year old lawyer Ludwig Minelli, has been accused of profiteering in 3 cases of assisted suicide.
On May 18, Minelli stood accused in the Uster District Court (Zurich) of allegedly having accepted a 100,000 Swiss franc donation from an 80-year-old German woman in 2003, although his assistance only cost a couple thousand francs. In the second case, in 2010 a mother and her daughter were charged double the usual costs (approximately 10,000 Swiss francs) according to the prosecution. The day before the hearing, Dignitas had celebrated the 20th anniversary of its’ founding.
Under Swiss Law, providing assisted suicide services is not illegal as long as assistance is not tendered for “self-serving motives” such as financial gain: doing so is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. This is an automatically prosecuted offense (“ex officio”). In his closing arguments, the prosecutor stated that Ludwig A. Minelli uses “unauthorized commercial tactics (…). High fees are charged which bear no relation to actual cost.” He also argued that Dignitas has a capital of 1.8 million Swiss francs compared to Exit, the largest assisted suicide organization in Switzerland whose membership outnumbers Dignitas, which only has a capital of 200,000 Swiss francs.
Prosecutors are calling for a fine of 7,500 Swiss francs, plus a suspended financial penalty of around 65,000 (360 days of CHF 180/day).
The founder of Dignitas receives 150,000 Swiss francs annually (about 129,400 €), which he considers appropriate. “All work deserves payment,” he says in justification of his elevated salary.
In November 2017, the court had returned the indictment to the public prosecutor’s office for amendments, to complete missing data in the file. The judgment will be rendered at a later date. This trial, the first of its kind, could provide an opportunity to clarify basic questions about assisted suicide and the allowable charges for costs.
Unlike the Exit association which is only for Swiss citizens, foreigners may call upon Dignitas’ services. But to benefit from their assisted suicide service, one must first pay membership fees to join the association. Dignitas is also part of the World Federation of Associations for the Right to Die, and so is the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD), the leading French association for euthanasia and assisted suicide.