Switzerland to Combat 'Death Tourism'

Since 1942, Switzerland has been the only place in the world where non residents can go and legally find help to end their life.

But assisted suicide has become a hot topic for the Swiss government recently after a study showed more and more foreigners are travelling to the Alpine country to take their own lives with the help of private Swiss organizations.

Recently the Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf announced she is considering either restricting Switzerland's assisted suicide law in an attempt to cut what she called "death tourism."

"Today somebody can come to Switzerland and already the next day can have an assisted suicide through one of the so-called assisted suicide organizations. This should not be possible," she said.

"About one-third of the 400 people who came to Switzerland to die here in 2007 were foreigners from either Great Britain or Germany, where helping someone to kill themselves is almost always illegal," explains Bernatto Stadelmann, vice director of the Swiss Justice Ministry in Bern.

Switzerland, along with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, are the only European countries where authorities will not prosecute those who assist terminally ill people with suicide. In the United States it is only legal in the state of Oregon.

The Swiss Penal Code condones assisting suicide for altruistic reasons and considers assisting to commit suicide a crime only if the motive is selfish.

Non-government groups in Switzerland offer assisted suicide programs, including organizations like Exit, Ex-international and Dignitas.

Exit is the largest right-to-die association in Switzerland with some 50,000 members according to its website, but only Dignitas, which has 2,000 members, welcomes foreigners. Dignitas helps patients from abroad to obtain a prescription for a lethal dose of pentobarbital, a sleeping potion.

Patients must ingest the drug themselves. Those too ill to drink can use a self-induced injection, or a tube through the stomach

Among the 100 Britons believed to have ended their lives with the help of Dignitas are famous conductor Edward Downes and his wife, Joan, and Daniel James, a 23-year-old who was paralyzed from the chest down after a rugby accident in March 2007.

James' parents issued a statement saying he had attempted to kill himself several times already.

"His death was an extremely said loss for the family, friends and those that care for him but no doubt a welcome relief from the 'prison' he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence, as a result of which he took his own life."

"This is the last way that the family wanted Dan's life to end, but he was, as those of you who know him are aware, an intelligent, strong-willed and some say determined young man," their statement reads.

James' parents added that their son, "an intelligent young man of sound mind" had never come to terms with his condition and was "not prepared to live what he felt was a second-class existence."

"We do not want to restrict the legal rights of our citizens, but we have realized that our country has become a favorite destination for "death tourism" and we are not the least bit interested in that. We also want to make sure that we are not opening for profit making facilities," the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a written statement following up on Widmer-Schlumpf's press conference.

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