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Head of Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas in court on profiteering charges

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Head of Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas in court on profiteering charges
Dignitas co-founder Ludwig Minelli says the charges are baseless and unfounded. Photo: AFP
09:08 CEST+02:00
Just a week after 104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall made international headlines by choosing to end his life in Switzerland using Swiss group Eternal Spirit, the founder of the assisted dying association Dignitas is appearing in a Zurich district court.

Ludwig Minelli is the founder of the Swiss non-profit group Dignitas, the main port of call for foreigners who use assisted suicide services in Switzerland.

Read also: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland

Under Swiss law, providing assisted suicide services is not illegal as long as it is not done for “self-serving” motives: doing so carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

And state prosecutors say Minelli charged too much to provide such services to three German women.

In one of the cases, Minelli allegedly in 2010 charged a mother and daughter pair around 10,000 francs each instead of the usual cost of some 5,000 to 6,000 francs.

In the second case, Minelli is alleged in 2003 to have taken advantage of an 80-year-old woman who was sick but not terminally ill. He approached four doctors before finally finding one who was willing to aid to woman to commit suicide.

Read also: David Goodall commits assisted suicide in Switzerland, aged 104

Prosecutors argue his persistence in this second case was based on the fact the woman had promised a 100,000-franc donation to Dignitas on her death. They also argue the woman gave power of attorney to Minelli, allowing him to transfer 46,000 francs to a Dignitas account when she died.

Prosecutors are calling for a fine of 7,000 francs and a further suspended financial penalty of 65,000 francs with a two-year probation period.

Minelli has strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying the accusations are baseless and unfounded.

The case is being followed closely by legal experts and politicians with the former chief prosecutor for the canton of Zurich, Andreas Brunner, telling Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger: “Assisted dying associations must be legally required to make public and accessible their cost structures.”

Free Democratic Party politician Ida Glanzmann also said the Minelli case showed cost transparency was required. In 2015, Glanzmann called for assisted suicide organisations to be made to open up their accounts to the federal government.

For foreigners using Dignitas, the total cost usually comes to 7,500 francs without funeral and administrative services. For Swiss citizens that cost is around 4,000 francs if general practitioners do not charge for their medical reports.

In the case of Exit which is only open to Swiss citizens and long-term residents, the cost ranges from 1,100 francs to 3,700 francs depending on how long people have been members. People who have been members for three years or more pay nothing. But Exit notes that costs vary substantially in individual cases depending on medical and individual requirements.

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