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Swiss act on assisted suicide

3 November 2009

The Swiss government has put forward proposals to reform assisted-dying legislation to counter the rise in one-way visitors from abroad coming to end their days in the country.

Swiss justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said current legislation on assisted suicide was drawn up in the 1930s, at a time where nobody anticipated the existence of organisations such as Dignitas or Exit.

One option would abolish “organised assistance”, potentially forcing suicide clinics to shut down. The government’s preferred option, however, is for stricter requirements limiting the availability of organised assisted suicide to terminally-ill patients.

The new rules would require evidence that the “suicidee” has “freely expressed his decision to die” after “mature reflection”. Two doctors, appointed by the patient or clinic, would also have to certify that the patient suffers from an incurable illness likely to result in death in the near future.

The new rules would take the shape of an amendment to article 115 of the Swiss penal code, which criminalises assisted suicide when assistance is provided for personal gain.

There have been concerns in Switzerland about the number of British and German ‘death tourists’ in the past few years. According to Swiss daily Tribune de Genève, out of the 1,360 suicides in 2007, 400 were assisted.

That same year, Dignitas reported that it had helped 141 patients, only six of whom were Swiss.

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