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Swiss canton to vote on assisted suicide

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11:43 CEST+02:00

The people of the canton of Vaud will vote in June on whether to require nursing homes and hospitals to accept assisted suicide on their premises.

The referendum taking place in Vaud on June 17th 2012 may result in the first ever law on assisted suicide being passed in Switzerland. The issue concerns whether or not nursing homes and hospitals should be made to accept the practice of assisted suicide.

In Switzerland, there is currently no law that regulates the practice. Dignitas and Exit, Swiss organizations that offer to assist in the suicides of specific groups, are both able to operate because of a legal technicality: Article 115 of the Penal Code punishes incitement to suicide and assisted suicide for the attainment of selfish ends.

The organization Exit deals only with Swiss citizens, unlike Dignitas, which assists people coming to Switzerland from overseas. Many of the Swiss patients live in nursing homes, Exit president Jérôme Sobel told newspaper Tribune de Genève.

Between 2001 and 2011 Exit assisted in 55 deaths of patients who had been living in nursing homes, each of which resulted in an administrative battle. As a result, Exit decided to launch the current initiative. 

Everyone should have the freedom to choose their own death, Sobel believes.

While many agree with the idea in theory, critics are concerned that enlarging the number of establishments available to individuals seeking assistance could result in a dip in the standards currently provided by Exit.

In response to these concerns, a draft law was prepared which set out strict guidelines as to who may assist in the suicides. In particular, the chief doctor at the home or hospital should check that the patient is suffering from an incurable illness or injury, that the patient is capable of making up his own mind, and that his desire to die persists.

The doctor should also consult with the patient’s caregivers, other doctors and family members. Nursing staff will not be allowed to assist.

It remains to be seen how the people of Vaud will vote. Local politicians were against the draft, but the people may not necessarily concur. Last April, the people of Zurich showed their sympathy to the movement, when 84.5 percent said no to a ban on assisted suicide.

The vote on June 17th will show whether the people of Vaud believe enough in assisted suicide to enact the first law in Switzerland on the issue.

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