Swiss Euthanasia Group Under Fire After Painful Assisted Suicide Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 9, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Swiss Euthanasia Group Under Fire After Painful Assisted Suicide Death Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 9
, 2007

Zurich, Switzerland ( — A Swiss euthanasia group that says it has coordinated the deaths of more than 600 people at its clinics there is coming under fire after a German woman apparently suffered tremendous pain when she died at one of its facilities.

The SonntagsZeitung newspaper in Zurich reported Sunday that a 43 year-old German woman with the initial A.H. screamed in pain for over four minutes before her death.

The Dignitas group gave her a lethal cocktail last November that eventually took her life.

Friends who accompanied her to her death told the newspaper the woman cried out, "I’m burning, I’m burning" and then fell into a coma. She was reportedly comatose for 38 minutes before finally succumbing to the drug.

Dignitas refuses to discuss the details of the case.

"We have no comment on any reports by the Tamedia house in Zurich," Dignitas head Ludwig Minelli told the AFP news agency about the company that publishes the newspaper.

If the allegations are true, this is the second time a German patient has suffered and been the victim of an assisted suicide that went wrong, despite assurances from euthanasia advocates that the process is painless and peaceful.

In August 2004, a Germany Dignitas client named Peter A. spent three days in a coma after taking the lethal drugs, the SonntagsZeitung reported.

A Zurich prosecutor told AFP it was too early to say whether it would conduct an investigation into the German woman’s death.

Ludwig Minelli, the 74-year-old lawyer who runs Dignitas, told British lawmakers in September that the group has killed 619 of its members since it was created in May 1998.

In July, he indicated he plans to create a chain of centers across Europe and he claims in a recent interview that the group has saved more lives than it has taken.

He claims the group has saved lives by helping people to talk more about end of life issues, which has resulted in fewer people committing assisted suicide who might have otherwise.

"We are the biggest suicide preventing organization," Minelli claimed in an interview with Reuters, alleging that 70 percent of the people who Dignitas clears to kill themselves don’t follow through.

"I have always been a person who helps people," he added, rejecting criticism from pro-life groups and others that his group encourages people to use assisted suicide.

Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, says Dignitas is doing a disservice to the disabled and elderly.

"Dignitas admits to having assisted the suicides of many people who were not terminally ill. As Minelli succinctly put it, ‘We never say no,’" Smith explained.

"Minelli’s position has a large constituency among euthanasia believers. Indeed, over the years, the movement has left many telltale signs that assisted suicide is not intended ultimately to be restricted to the imminently dying," he said.

Smith worries that, should Dignitas take its assisted suicide centers worldwide that a right to die will turn into a duty to die.

"Once assisted suicide is accepted in law and culture, the premises of radical autonomy and allowing killing to alleviate human suffering would conjoin, unleashing the irresistible power of logic that would push us inexorably toward the humanist nirvana of death on demand," Smith says.