The Swiss Model
Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since the 1940s. Indeed, assisted suicide in this country need not be performed by a medical doctor. While, historically, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences has held that assisted suicide is ‘not a part of a physician’s activity’, according to Swiss MP Dick Marty in 2003 the academy ‘performed a U-turn and told doctors they could help the terminally ill die but only under strict conditions’.
In Switzerland, assisted suicide falls under Article 115 of the Swiss penal code. As such it is ‘a crime if and only if the motive is selfish’. What is important in Switzerland is motive, not intent. All assisted suicides in Switzerland are video-taped. Once a death is reported to the police, the police, an officer from the coroner's department and a doctor all attend the death. At this time family and friends are interviewed. If a selfish motive cannot be established, there is no crime. By all reports these deaths are open-and-shut cases.
Interestingly, Swiss law also states that the ‘permissibility of altruistic assisted suicide cannot be overridden by a duty to save life’. This safeguards those assisting in the suicide, as long as the motivation is altruistic.
The organisation Dignitas is the most high profile, non-physician group assisting with suicide. The director of Dignitas is the human rights lawyer, Ludwig Minelli.
In December 2008, Dignitas attracted global condemnation when it showed on a Sky documentary the actual death of an American client.
In March 2011 in the Canton of Zurich, a referendum was held to establish whether that Canton should continue to allow foreigners to use the liberal Swiss law. An overwhelming 78% voted that foreigners should continue to be allowed.
In January 2007, Exit Director Dr Philip Nitschke accompanied Sydney doctor, Dr John Elliott and his wife Angelika to Dignitas. John, who was suffering from cancer of the bone marrow, became the sixth Australian to use the Dignitas service. His story became the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 January 2007.
Other organisations making use of the liberal Swiss law include Exit Switzerland and the Swiss Society for Humane Dying.
The Youtube.com video of the trip can be viewed below.