Swiss canton sanctions assisted suicide

The canton of Vaud has voted in favour of allowing assisted suicide to take place in nursing homes, making it the first formal Swiss law on the subject.

More than 61 percent of voters in Vaud opted on Sunday in favour of allowing assisted suicide to take place in nursing homes, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

The initiative came about as a local governmental counter-proposal to an earlier initiative launched by Exit, the Swiss organization that assists in suicides.

Exit had wanted to make assisted suicide available in all hospitals as well as to empower patients in all cases to be able to make the final decision on how they wished to die.

That proposal was rejected in favour of the counter-initiative which opens the door for patients who meet certain criteria to be able to take advantage of Exit’s services in nursing homes across the canton.

The initiative requires that a patient have a serious or terminal disease, and be judged competent to make decisions. In addition, the new law will require that the patient be fully informed about the availability of palliative care.

“There was clearly a risk of trivializing suicide,” cantonal health minister and proponent of the counter-initiative, Pierre-Yves Maillard, said of Exit’s proposal.

“If we had not launched a counter-proposal, the debate would have taken place between supporters of Exit and people whose minds were closed to assisted suicide. This debate has led to a successful initiative,” he told newspaper Tribune de Genève

Not everyone agrees however, and those with conscientious objections are concerned.

“It’s still not right that the law requires us to act contrary to our conscience,” Jacques Chollet, chairman of the boards of trustees of Praz-Sun and Bethel nursing homes, told the newspaper.

According to Maillard, employees who do not cooperate with the new regulations will first be given a warning before “appropriate sanctions” are applied.

Although disappointed by the failure of their own initiative, Exit supporters are pleased with the result.

It’s a “half-step in the right direction,” chief of Exit Romandie told Tribune de Genève.

Up until now, Exit has faced an administrative battle each time it has sought to assist a patient.

Using a legal loophole, the organization has been able to operate because its work is not carried out for selfish ends. Unlike family members, which could potentially be seen as having selfish motives behind assisting, Exit has greater freedom to act due to its lack of proximity to its patients.

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