What do Switzerland’s new assisted suicide rules mean for foreigners?
Changes to the guidelines for assisted suicide in Switzerland are likely to have an outsized impact on foreigners. Here’s why.
Switzerland’s assisted suicide scheme allows people to take their own lives with the assistance of medical professionals.
The scheme is relatively unique internationally, with few other countries allowing the practice - particularly when it comes to non-residents.
New guidelines laid out by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences however, assisted suicide practices could be tightened in Switzerland - which is likely to have an outdated impact on foreigners.
These guidelines include a more stringent test for whether you should be allowed assisted suicide services, along with a longer waiting period and more meetings with doctors.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are the rules for assisted suicide in Switzerland?
One important distinction to make is between euthanasia and assisted suicide. Assisted suicide still requires the person in question to administer the suicide themselves, while euthanasia is where a doctor takes this final step.
Euthanasia is not permitted in Switzerland, while assisted suicide is allowed for both locals and foreigners.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland on compassionate grounds.
While article 115 of the Swiss penal code prohibits assisted suicide for “self-serving reasons” and article 114 prohibits “causing the death” of a person for “commendable motives, and in particular out of compassion for the victim”, assisted suicide for non-selfish reasons is not specifically prohibited as long as certain conditions are met.
Can foreigners access assisted suicide?
The main associations administering assisted suicides are Exit, Dignitas, Ex International, and lifecircle.
Exit and Dignitas are the largest groups in Switzerland.
Exit only provides assistance for citizens or long-term residents of Switzerland while Dignitas is the only organisation to provide assisted suicide services to foreigners.
According to Dignitas, assisted suicide is popular among foreigners, with 90 percent of those who received help dying in 2018 coming from abroad. The majority of those who received assisted suicide were German.
In order to access assisted suicide as a foreigner, you will need to become a Dignitas member. This can be done from abroad, provided you are deemed to be of full mental capacity and are an adult.
More information is available at the following link.
What are the rule changes and what does it mean for foreigners?
In May, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences updated its guidelines for assisted suicide as part of its deontological code.
The update added in four main points:
- Doctors must now have two consultations with patients which must be at least two weeks apart.
- The condition must be serious and severe to the point where it is “unbearable”.
- A patient’s environment must be taken into account.
- There is no ethical or medical justification for providing assisted suicide to healthy people.
Importantly, the rules are not binding law on assisted suicide providers in Switzerland. However, they have since been adopted by the Swiss Medical Association (FMH).
Around 90 percent of Swiss doctors and medical professionals - including those who provide assisted suicide services - are members of the FMH.
FMH members are required to adhere to the FMH code and can be sanctioned if they do not.
What do these changes mean for foreigners?
A major change under the new guidelines is that people must be ill.
Under the previous rules, old age was a valid reason for accessing assisted suicide services, as illustrated by the high-profile case of Australian scientist David Goodall.
Goodall made headlines when he travelled to Switzerland to take his life, saying that while he didn’t have a terminal illness, his quality of life had deteriorated significantly and he wanted to die.
While the changes apply to all examples of assisted suicide in Switzerland, the impact is likely to be outsized on foreigners.
The two-meeting requirement is particularly difficult for foreigners, as it means they will need to stay for at least two weeks in Switzerland at what could be a considerable expense.
The UK-based Campaign for Dignity in Dying, an organisation which agitates for greater access to assisted suicide, estimates that it currently costs between £6,500 (CHF8,269) to over £15,000 (CHF19,080) for each person receiving assisted suicide in Switzerland, at an average of £10,000 (CHF12,720).
These costs include travel costs to Switzerland, along with accommodation costs and medical expenses.
This could increase significantly should patients need to stay in Switzerland longer.
Exit spoke out against the changes, saying that they create unnecessary suffering.
"If someone is suffering and wants to die as soon as possible, and I can tell that the decision was well-considered, then a second conversation only causes unnecessary suffering."
While Exit vowed not to adopt the new guidelines, Exit does not provide services to foreigners.
Dignitas, the largest provider of assisted suicide services to foreigners, has also spoken out against the changes but has as yet not indicated whether they would be adopted.