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Swiss Vote Could End ‘Suicide Tourism’

May 13, 2011

As regular readers will know, I support disabled people’s right to live for as long as is naturally possible. So I don’t usually agree with the idea of assisted suicide or assisted death. However, I’m not sure how I feel about the news that on Sunday, voters in Zurich, Switzerland, will hold a referendum on two proposals relating to this issue- one to ban assisted suicide altogether, and another to only allow the practice for permanent residents of Zurich.

Opinion polls in Switzerland show that many people there believe a person has the right to decide when and how to die. So the proposal to ban the practice, suggested by the religious group, Evangelical Democratic Union, seems unlikely to be passed. However, voters are much less sure about whether Switzerland should be offering assisted suicide to citizens of other countries, where the practice remains illegal.

In recent years, terminally ill people from other European countries where assisted suicide remains illegal have ended their lives at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. As a result the city has become known for ‘suicide tourism.’ If this proposal is passed, Dignitas may be forced to stop offering its services to overseas clients.

There is particular concern at the speed with which foreign patients are helped to end their lives- for many the procedure takes place within just a day or two of arriving in Zurich.

Campaigners against assisted suicide in Zurich are concerned that this is not the kind of image their city should have.

The founder of Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli, refused to comment. However, in an interview with the BBC last year, he said that the right to choose when and how to die is ‘the last human right’ and that he wanted to continue to help ‘implement’ this right.

But Zurich’s biggest assisted suicide organisation, Exit, already only offers its services to permanent residents of Switzerland. Vice President Bernhard Sutter told the BBC that he would be ‘happy’ if Germany or Britain could change their laws on assisted suicide.

If the laws in countries where the practice is illegal were to change, this would be very good news for disabled people like Lynn Gilderdale- those who genuinely wish to end their lives and have expressed this wish themselves. However, there is still, as always, the danger that a change in this law could lead to an increase in cases like this one, in which no one will ever know what the disabled person themselves wanted.

It will be interesting to see what the people of Zurich decide.

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