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Do Swiss cantons have different rules on assisted suicide?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Do Swiss cantons have different rules on assisted suicide?
Assisted dying in elderly care facilities is only allowed in several cantons. Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Under Switzerland’s federalist structure, cantons have a far-reaching autonomy in deciding what happens on their territories. A few have their own rules on assisted suicide.


Switzerland has had an assisted suicide law on the books since 1942 — a constitutional right of each person to determine the manner of his or her death.

This basic principle is the same throughout the country, and while some people and organisations are opposed to this practice, most are in favour of the legislation.

In a survey carried out by Swiss Medical Weekly publication, for instance, 81.7 percent of respondents supported the legality of assisted suicide, as is currently the case in Switzerland, and 60.9 percent stated that they would potentially consider asking for assisted suicide under certain circumstances. 

What does this law say?

The practice is heavily regulated in Switzerland on federal level.

Foremost among the rules is that people must commit suicide by their own hand, for example, by taking medication themselves. A doctor cannot administer a lethal injection without being liable for criminal prosecution (this would be euthanasia, which remains illegal in Switzerland).

People must also be aware of actions they are undertaking and have given due consideration to their situation. In addition, they be consistently sure they wish to die, and, of course, not be under the influence of another person, or group of persons.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland


Do these rules differ from one canton to another?

The rules described above are the same throughout Switzerland.

And while cantons have a lot of flexibility to modify existing legislation, cantonal laws cannot contravene federal ones.

In other words, cantons cannot repeal national legislation but, rather, build on it by adding their own rules. 

Relating specifically to assisted dying, “there can be differences in the practical process of assisted suicide — for instance, official investigations following an assisted suicide are not regulated in the same way in every canton,” Muriel Düby, spokesperson for Switzerland’s largest assisted suicide organisation, EXIT, told The Local.

She cited the example of canton of Bern, where “forensics and forensic medicine are always called in, whereas this is not the case in other cantons. This is because federal law, determines the substantive content of criminal procedures, while the implementation is left to the cantons.”

By the same token, there are also different regulations when it comes to assisted suicide in healthcare facilities.

As this is not comprised in the federal legislation, “some cantons have introduced special laws requiring all nursing homes to allow assisted suicide as a basic right,” Düby said.

This is the case in Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Valais.

This means that anyone who lives in one of these cantons and is a resident in an elderly care facility, has the right to assisted dying, while this is not the case in the other 22 cantons.


The Geneva ‘exception’
While this right has not been challenged in Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Valais, it is currently under threat in Geneva.

At the beginning of September, the Geneva parliament voted to repeal the law passed in 2018 which allows the practice.

In response, EXIT has vowed to force a referendum to stop the canton from revoking the legislation. (Note that this move concerns only healthcare facilities, and is not intended to repeal the entire assisted suicide law).
READ ALSO: Can foreigners access Switzerland’s assisted suicide clinics?


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