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.
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.
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.
In its latest evaluation of Switzerland, the United Nations Human Rights Committee wrote that it is “concerned about the lack of independent or judicial oversight to determine that a person seeking assistance to commit suicide is operating with full free and informed consent.” The Committee concluded that Switzerland “should consider amending its legislation” to ensure such oversight.
Evidence shows that the Committee’s concerns are warranted. Many patients with psychiatric disorders, including depression, have received assisted suicide in Switzerland. A study of assisted suicides performed by Swiss end-of-life groups found 20 cases in which a mental health problem was the sole underlying condition mentioned. An older study of 43 assisted suicide cases published in Swiss Medical Weekly found that 14 percent of individuals dying by assisted suicide had been treated in a psychiatric institution. In 12 percent of cases, patients chose assisted suicide because of bereavement. Other research has indicated that requests for death—even among terminally ill patients— are closely associated with depression that is potentially treatable. Depression, bereavement, and similar factors hinder a person’s judgement and prevent proper consent.
Moreover, the Swiss Medical Weekly study determined that in 23 percent of cases the length of time between an assisted suicide patient’s first contact with EXIT and the actual suicide was less than a week; in 9 percent of cases the length of time was less than a day. Given such a short window of time, there is no guarantee that individuals who die by assisted suicide are making truly free and competent choices.
With big money to be made, it’s no wonder assisted suicide is a growth industry:
The incidence of assisted suicide in Switzerland has consistently and significantly increased over time. A total of 742 assisted suicide deaths among Swiss residents were registered for the year 2014 (the latest year for which government data is available), according to the Federal Statistical Office. That’s a 26 percent increase over the previous year and a 150 percent increase from five years earlier. The assisted suicide total has risen every year since 2008.
Fairfax columnist Peter FitzSimons does not recognise that Switzerland’s suicide slopes are indeed slippery:
So where are you now, you fierce opponents of euthanasia and the right-to-die? How many of you, honestly, can look at the triumphant – you heard me – passing of the 104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall in Switzerland on Thursday and say that he got it wrong, that society is on a slippery slope, et cetera?
I’m not a fierce opponent of the right-to-die but do have serious doubts about Switzerland’s unique suicide tourism laws, which allow foreigners to visit for the sole purpose of ending their lives, a 2013 study noting that “25% of people who die by assisted suicide in Switzerland do not have any serious or terminal illness”, a retired British teacher availing herself of Dignitas’s services because “she had become fed up with the modern world of emails, TVs, computers and supermarket ready meals.”
The canny Swiss recognised an obvious business opportunity, uniquely offering assisted suicide services to the whole planet.