Swiss Suicide Tourism Group Dignitas Dumped Urns of Remains in Lake Zurich

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 27, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Swiss Suicide Tourism Group Dignitas Dumped Urns of Remains in Lake Zurich

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 27
, 2010

Zurich, Switzerland ( — The infamous suicide tourism organization Dignitas is drawing fury from Swiss people and government officials after it was discovered it dumped 300 urns of remains of victims into Lake Zurich. Police have launched an investigation after the urns were found at the bottom of the lake.

The large rusty orange colored urns were lying in a "big heap" officials said and the bore the mark of the cremation service Dignitas employs, the London Daily Mani newspaper reports.

Divers from a rescue service discovered the urns by chance while looking for a piece of their boat that fell into the lake and reported them to police.

Swiss law makes it illegal to dispose of a large number of urns without a commercial disposal license. The newspaper indicates offenders face fines up to 50,000 Swiss Francs (almost $46,000 US) and a prison sentence of up to three years.

"It is against the law to dump in this quantity. We have filed a criminal complaint against unknown persons for disturbance of the dead," Environment Agency spokesman Bollack said, according to the Daily Mail. "The retrieved urns are now with the police and are being kept in a place respecting their dignity."

Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli would not issue a comment in response to the newspaper’s request for one.

But former Dignitas employee Soraya Wernli, who has exposed the suicide tourism group to the media before, admitted Minelli used to dump the urns in the lake himself and then began asking family members, friends and staff to do it.

"Around one in three urns end up in Lake Zurich. At first Minelli put the urns in the lake himself but later asked his daughter and another member of staff to do it," she said.

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith noted the apparent contradiction that suicide tourism is legal but improper disposing of the cremated remains is not.

"So, facilitating the suicides of these people is perfectly fine, but burying them wrongly–that gets Minelli in trouble," he said. "The word irony fails to adequately characterize the situation–particularly as the country’s Supreme Court created a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill."

"Assisted suicide advocates often claim the mantle of compassion–as Minelli often has. But as with Kevorkian, that is often a mask for indifference and abandonment," he added.

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