Since the law on assisted suicide in Switzerland is not as cut and dry as it is in other countries, it has turned into the preferred destination for euthanasia supporters and a hotbed for so-called “suicide tourism.” A report published in the Journal of Medical Ethics has revealed that an alarming number of people from neighboring European countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom as well as other parts of the world have visited Switzerland for assisted suicide in the past couple of years.
"If Switzerland is happy to continue providing the facility then, however intellectually dishonest it may be to allow her to siphon of all our own English pain, fear, angst and debate, is it likely to do less harm overall than introducing any conceivable assisted suicide law into England," medical lawyer Charles Foster said in an accompanying editorial.
Researchers from Oxford University found that although the number of assisted suicides performed on people visiting Switzerland dropped from 123 in 2008 to 86 in 2009, that number doubled between 2009 and 2012 to 172. Over the course of the four year period, 611 “suicide tourists” between the age of 23 and 97 visited Switzerland from 31 different countries. Just over 58 percent of assisted suicide cases were women and the average age was 69.
Around half of people seeking assisted suicide were suffering from a neurological condition such as paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. Others reported cardiovascular disease, rheumatic disease, or cancer, and many were suffering from more than one condition. Among the 31 different countries “suicide tourists” came from, 268 were from Germany, 126 from the UK, 66 from France, 44 from Italy, 21 from the United States, 14 from Austria, 12 from Canada, eight from both Spain and Israel, and even one reported case from India.
"We need to start asking questions such as: Is it appropriate to give antibiotics to a terminally ill patient who develops a chest infection? It is possible that a tendency to carry on with curative treatment even in those clearly dying explains the general public's support for (assisted suicide)," said Alison Twycross of London South Bank University. "Autonomy is important, but it could be that, in matters of life and death, you cannot create freedom for the few without taking away adequate safeguards for the many."
There are six “right to die” organizations in Switzerland, four of which open up their services to people from other countries. The preferred method of most euthanasia clinics is sodium pentobarbital which paralyzes the patient’s respiratory system and stops them form breathing. Dignitas, a right to die organization started back in 1998, charges upward of $10,000 for their services.
Source: Bartsch C, Reisch T, Mausbach J, Gauthier S. Suicide tourism: a pilot study on the Swiss phenomenon. Journal of Medical Ethics. 2014.