World-weary Swiss seniors seek suicide help

New figures show that more and more Swiss seniors are taking advantage of assisted suicide even when they do not suffer from any terminal diseases.

The latest reports from Exit, the organization that offers assisted suicide to the Swiss, show that one in every five French speakers and one in every three German speakers opting for assisted suicide are not suffering from a life-threatening illness, newspaper Tribune de Genève reported.

This section of the elderly are coming forward in ever increasing numbers, citing “weariness of life” together with a bad bill of health as the main reason for the decision. Although not terminal, many suffer from debilitating health, with incurable problems such as blindness, incontinence and mobility issues greatly reducing quality of life.

Exit is able to assist these people because, although they are not quadriplegic or suffering from terminal illnesses, they nevertheless meet the required criteria: the person’s prognosis must be for an incurable health issue leading either to death or disability, and physical and psychological pain and suffering must also be present.

“In addition, sometimes the last great hope [for some of these older people] in the winter of their lives is to join those who have already left,” Jérôme Sobel, president of Exit in the west of Switzerland, told the newspaper.

Sobel explained that the expansion of types of cases taken on by Exit occurred as a result of requests from the organization’s members.

Nevertheless the practice is not without its critics.

For one, the practices seem to go against the non-binding code devised by the Central Ethics Committee of the Swiss Association of Medical Sciences. This code states that suicide assisted by a physician is only allowed where “the disease plaguing the patient suggests that the end of life is near”.

Sobel disagrees.

“If we still blindly followed the codes of medical ethics, there would be no legal abortion or assisted suicide today,” he says.

Bertrand Kiefer, chief editor of the Swiss Medical Review, urges caution.

“Agreeing too easily to meet the suicide demand of these seniors plays into the hands of a society where beauty, youth and performance are established as core values. Before responding to a death wish, we must ask if the people can find meaning in their lives despite their problems.”

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