Analysis of legal assisted suicide in Switzerland

Michael Cook
8 March 2014
Reproduced with Permission

An extensive survey of assisted suicide in Switzerland between 2003 and 2008 has found that the most vulnerable people are women, people who live alone or people who are divorced. People who ask for assisted suicide tend to be wealthier and better educated.

The results have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The authors, from the University of Bern, conclude that disadvantaged sectors of the Swiss population are not more vulnerable to assisted suicide, because relatively fewer low-income people take advantage of it. Their principal recommendation is that the government should require better statistics.

However, other interesting findings also emerge.

Nowadays, Swiss assisted suicide is "marketed" as a remedy for an unendurable disability and an alternative to the pain of terminal illness. However, that is not why the legislators of 1918 proposed it and the legislators of 1937 approved it. They removed penalties for assisting a suicide if the motivation were altruistic. But, surprisingly for our generation, health was not a consideration. Legalised assisted suicide was for people suffering the pain of wounded honour or disappointed love.

But in 1982 two non-profit associations, one for French speakers, Exit Suisse Romande, and one for German speakers, Exit Deutsche Schweiz, were formed to help their members die. These were followed by EX International in 1996, which helps foreigners, and Dignitas in 1998, which helps both Swiss and foreigners. What began as a policy in the spirit of The Sorrows of Young Werther ended up as industrial death.