Switzerland to Combat 'Death Tourism'

Foreign abusers force Swiss to consider tighter assisted suicide laws.

ByABC News
October 29, 2009, 1:07 PM

PASSAU, Germany, Oct. 30, 2009 — -- 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