Swiss Legislation Proposed to Restrict "Suicide Tourism"

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 3, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Swiss Legislation Proposed to Restrict "Suicide Tourism"

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
March 3, 2004

Zurich, Switzerland ( — The public prosecutor of Zurich wants the canton to pass legislation that would restrict assisted suicide, particularly an effect referred to as "suicide tourism."

Andreas Brunner says the practice projects a negative image of Switzerland, and the need for the legislation is especially necessary as the Swiss Justice Minister, Christoph Blocher, decided in February that Switzerland did not need a federal law on assisted suicide. The Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences also announced last month that physicians can help terminally-ill patients die under certain conditions — a reversal of its original position against assisted suicide.

"It’s an unfortunate decision," Brunner told swissinfo. "But I think if Zurich takes the lead, then the federal authorities will probably show more interest."

Currently assisted suicide is illegal in Switzerland, but four organizations have taken advantage of the lax enforcement and regulations, and have offered their services to the public. In the case of Dignitas, 91 of its clients in 2003 were foreigners, compared to only 2 Swiss nationals. In 2000, only 3 foreigners traveled to Switzerland as "suicide tourists."

"The new Swiss assisted suicide regulations appear to officially ratify the form of assisted suicide legally practiced in Switzerland since 1942," pro-life attorney Tom Marzen told "They appear to be very close to the law allowing assisted suicide in the Oregon."

Brunner admits that the foreign travelers are likely coming to Switzerland because their own countries are not nearly as laid-back on assisted suicide.

The proposed legislation would not only address the foreigners seeking assisted suicides, but it would also regulate organizations offering such services, and set guidelines for training, although it would only apply to the canton of Zurich and not the whole country.

Ludwig Minelli, general secretary of Dignitas, believes that current regulations are enough.

"They need to have a doctor’s prescription to get the drug and an official inquiry after each death should be enough," Minelli said.

Studies have shown that Switzerland has the highest number of cases of assisted suicide in Europe, a number that has steadily increased over the last four years. In fact, euthanasia is so common in Switzerland that seven out of every ten terminally-ill people die that way.