Death tourism - Euthanasia Holidays

Death tourism is usually associated with Switzerland. Dignitas, a Swiss organisation that organises assisted suicides, is the only Swiss group that assists foreigners to commit suicide. There is concern over the practice and Zurich officials are planning a 'crack down'. >
  • Dignitas provides foreign nationals with a Swiss doctor who, after seeing the patient only once, will supply the lethal drugs.
  • Once the drugs have been supplied, Dignitas then provides the patient with a small apartment in Zurich for his or her death.
  • The lethal drugs are prepared by a volunteer nurse; two witnesses are present for each death; and the local authorities are notified.
  • Dignitas accepts people who are terminally ill, have Alzheimer's disease, are depressed, or have other forms of mental illness.
  • Some people have insufficient doctors' records, insufficient documentation, and may not be capable of making a rational decision to die.
  • Planned regulations would require foreigners to have lived in Switzerland for at least six months before they became eligible for assisted suicide.
Death tourists are terminally ill patients from across the world who travel to countries with legalised euthanasia so that they may commit suicide without committing a crime.

In November 2002, The Observer newspaper reported that a terminally ill cancer sufferer had become the first Briton to take his own life at an 'assisted suicide' clinic in Switzerland.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society warned that 'death tourism' could result in dozens of Britons going abroad to commit suicide without proper safeguards being in place.

Chief executive of the VES Deborah Annetts said,
"This is a terribly sad situation. We hear from desperate terminally ill adults and their families on a daily basis. They are forced to consider taking drastic measures because the law in the UK prevents them from requesting a good death." The Swiss clinic is run by Dignitas, a local group that organises assisted suicides and is the only Swiss group that assists foreigners to commit suicide.

Dignitas provides foreign nationals with a Swiss doctor who, after seeing the patient only once, will supply the lethal drugs if it appears that the patient's death wish is the result of a "rational" decision. In Switzerland, only one doctor is needed to approve a candidate for assisted suicide.

Once the drugs have been supplied, Dignitas then provides the patient with a small apartment in Zurich for his or her death. The lethal drugs are prepared by a volunteer nurse; two witnesses are present for each death; and the local authorities are notified.

Dignitas director Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer, explained that his organisation will accept people who are terminally ill, have Alzheimer's disease, are depressed, or have other forms of mental illness. Accepting patients in the last three categories puts into serious question the "rational" death wish requirement.

Zurich's chief prosecutor Andreas Brunner says:
"Some people have insufficient doctors' records, insufficient documentation, and we must ask whether they were capable of making a rational decision to die. Sometimes it's impossible to be sure. Some arrive one day and die the next. We can't always check whether their wish to die has been a long-term one or just a phase they're going through."
Minelli says that many people had expressed interest in joining Dignitas. 'We will help these people, but really they should be able to have an assisted suicide in their own country. It is wrong that someone who is very ill should have to leave his home and his country and fly thousands of miles in order to be assured of a peaceful death.'

Authorities in Switzerland are deeply worried about the influx of foreigners to the Zurich-based clinic and are considering passing emergency legislation to prevent this. Zurich public prosecutor Andreas Brunner said: 'Death tourism is a very touchy subject. What if someone has psychological problems? What if they have an illness which it turns out, is actually curable?'

According to Minelli, Dignitas does not charge for its death services because making a profit from assisted suicide is illegal in Switzerland. What he does charge is a $26NZ (£10UK $15US, EUR 16) membership fee and accepts donations. Minelli says his group just wants to help anybody "who is looking for a place to put his body."

The actual cost, however, for anyone planning to use Dignitas' services can run as high as $2070NZ (£800UK $1,2445US, EUR 1,263), and that does not include traveling costs to Zurich and costs to return the body to the person's native country. Most want to be cremated and have their ashes sent to relatives.

Zurich ethicist Professor Oswald Ultz is critical of Dignitas. "It's a very strange occurrence that someone wants to help to kill people," he told a reporter from National Public Radio (NPR). "They count their efficiency by the body count. It's the ultimate execution of power over someone else. And I think that's quite a pathology. And, therefore, many of these people should have psychological or psychiatric help," he explained.

Swiss crack down
In March 2004 Swiss authorities announced plans to crack down on 'suicide tourists.' They planned to put regulations in place that would require foreigners to have lived in Switzerland for at least six months before they became eligible for assisted suicide.

The regulations would also allow the Swiss authorities to check that would-be patients are suffering from incurable illnesses and have expressed a repeated desire to die - the criteria that euthanasia clinics are supposed to impose.

Dignitas said that it believed that the existing regulations were sufficient and that it would challenge any legislation restricting access to euthanasia clinics to people who were living in Switzerland. 1 Not all of those who have died at Dignitas have been terminally ill. Most were facing prolonged death and suffering from degenerative neurological disorders.

An Italian firm called EXIT, based in Turin, takes groups of terminally ill Italians to the Netherlands, where they check into a hospital. After a complete medical check, which must obey certain parameters, they can be declared fit to be placed on the list for a voluntarily assisted death ? euthanasia.

References:
  1. Swiss to crack down on suicide tourism