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Swiss doctor charged for aiding senior's suicide

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Swiss doctor charged for aiding senior's suicide
Assisted suicide clinic run by Dignitas at Pfäffikon, near Zurich. Photo: Sebastian Derungs/AFP
10:35 CEST+02:00
A Neuchâtel doctor stands accused of breaking Swiss law by helping an 89-year-old patient die without getting a proper diagnosis of the man's condition.

Dr. Philippe Freiburghaus told a regional court at Boudry in the canton of Neuchâtel that he acted out of compassion in prescribing sodium pentobarbital to the elderly man, who suffered pain and had tried to commit suicide.

The drug is commonly used in Switzerland for assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland.

But during a court hearing that ended on Monday, prosecutor Marc Rémy said the doctor had “crossed the line” by failing to follow the legal regulations, Le Matin reported.

“In prescribing this drug he did not respect the ethical directives, namely the presence of an incurable illness and a short life expectancy,” Rémy said.

The prosecutor is seeking a symbolic 500-franc ($536) fine against the doctor, Le Matin said.

Dr. Freiburghaus said if he had to deal with the same situation again “I would take the same decision for this particular case”, the newspaper reported.

He said the man was suffering unbearable pain.

The doctor said he was unable to get a precise diagnosis of the man’s condition because he refused to be treated.

But the patient showed symptoms linked “in all likelihood to an illness from a anorectal tumour, namely a cancer of the rectal area”.

The doctor testified he had been called by the octogenarian’s wife who informed him the man had tried to cut his wrists, Le Matin said.

The patient said he didn’t want any treatment and just wanted to die, Dr. Freiburghaus said.

His lawyer, Yves Grandjean, noted that the prosecutor was evidently trying to make an example of his client, Le Matin said.

Grandjean said the central question at issue was, “What should a doctor do when his patient refuses treatment?”

The issue apparently is not addressed by the ethical guidelines or Swiss law, Le Matin said.

A court decision in the case is scheduled for July 8th.

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