Swiss Doctors Group Flip-Flops to Embrace Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 9, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Swiss Doctors Group Flip-Flops to Embrace Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
February 9, 2004

Geneva, Switzerland ( — In a move that is likely to lead to condemnation from around the world, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences has told physicians they can help terminally-ill patients die under certain conditions.

The announcement represents an about-face by the academy, which had previously opposed all forms of euthanasia.

"We still state that assisted suicide is not part of normal medical practice, but we add that there are situations where assisted suicide can be comprehensible," Werner Stauffacher, president of the academy, told the news agency Swissinfo.

"So it’s no longer a complete ‘no,’" Stauffacher added.

Pro-life attorney Tom Marzen, who monitors euthanasia and assisted suicide issues, said, "The new Swiss assisted suicide regulations appear to officially ratify the form of assisted suicide legally practiced in Switzerland since 1942."

"They appear to be very close to the law allowing assisted suicide in the Oregon," Marzen told

Under the academy’s guidelines, the doctor must be certain that the patient is close to dying. Pro-life leaders, however, note that doctors have been known to be wrong about the likelihood of a patient’s imminent death.

According to the academy, the patient must be in a fit state to make a decision. Pro-life activists note, however, that a desire to die may be indicative of depression, indicating the patient has a psychological problem which needs to be addressed.

The academy is also requiring that the decision be made after careful thought and that the decision must not be coerced.

In a number of assisted suicide cases, patients have felt a "duty to die" because they believe they are creating an undue burden for friends and family who may not support their right to life.

The regulations also call for the doctor to make sure that he or she has offered all available treatments to the patient. Under the Swiss plan, the patient must administer the lethal drugs themselves.

The academy claimed, though, that it does not support active euthanasia. In that kind of euthanasia method, the doctor administers the deadly drugs to the patient.

According to Swissinfo, while active euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland, authorities often ignore cases of assisted suicide.

Other forms of euthanasia, such as the withdrawal of life-preserving drugs, are tolerated in Switzerland, provided certain rules are followed.

According to the academy, Swiss authorities should respect the decisions of doctors who supply the terminally-ill with lethal drugs.

The academy’s recommendations will be reviewed by Swiss doctors and a final list of directives will be established by the end of the year.

Studies have shown that Switzerland has the highest number of cases of assisted suicide in Europe. The number of such suicides in Switzerland has increased steadily over the last four years.

According to statistics released by the University of Zurich, more than 250 people ended their lives through assisted suicide in 2003.

In fact, euthanasia is so common in Switzerland that seven out of every ten terminally-ill people die that way.

The efforts of pro-euthanasia organizations in Switzerland, such as Dignitas and Exit, are believed to have contributed to the high number of assisted suicides there.

However, the Swiss House of Representatives rejected the decriminalization of active euthanasia two years ago.