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Doctor acquitted for aiding senior’s suicide

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Doctor acquitted for aiding senior’s suicide
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
10:19 CEST+02:00
A Neuchâtel cantonal court has overturned the conviction of a doctor found guilty of breaking the law by helping an 89-year-old man die without getting a proper diagnosis of his condition.

Last July, a regional court found Dr. Philippe Freiburghaus “crossed the line” by assisting the man’s suicide without knowing precisely what disease he was suffering from.

But this finding was overturned by the higher court in a decision made public on Wednesday, the ATS news agency reported.

The agency did not state the reasons for the acquittal.

Freiburghaus told a regional court at Boudry last June 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.

Freiburghaus said the man was suffering unbearable pain but the doctor was unable to get a precise diagnosis of the patient’s condition because he refused to be treated, according to a report from Le Matin newspaper.

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

The doctor was fined a symbolic sum of 500 francs, which the appeal verdict reverses.

The case has been closely watched in Switzerland because of the potential legal precedents.

Dignitas, a Swiss association for assisted suicide, has said that a Swiss doctor must confirm that a patient has a terminal illness, an “unendurable incapacitating disability” or “unbearable and uncontrollable pain” before a life-ending drug can be authorized.

But in May last year, the European Court of Human Rights said that Switzerland did not provide clear enough guidelines on who has the right to obtain such lethal drugs. 

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