Swiss Voters Reject Assisted Suicide and Suicide Tourism Bans

Opinion   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 17, 2011   |   4:38PM   |   Washington, DC

In 2007, of the 400 assisted suicide patients in Switzerland, 132 of them came from abroad.   In October 2009, Switzerland announced plans to crackdown on “suicide tourism.”[1]  However, on Sunday, voters in Zurich rejected local referenda measures that would have banned assisted suicide and the practice of suicide tourism in their Canton.

The problem is not simply that Switzerland’s open-door policy for foreigners evades their home countries’ laws.  One Zurich assisted-suicide clinic, the “Dignitas” clinic — which claims to have helped end the lives of 1,000 foreingers[2] — has been criticized for assisting the suicide of some who were not terminally ill, were depressed, or were not of sound mind.[3]

Studies confirm that persons requesting suicide are often suffering from a treatable mental illness. The Royal College of Psychiatrists in England observed in 2006 that systematic studies have “clearly shown” the wish for assisted suicide among terminally ill patients is “strongly associated with depression.”[4]  It concluded that most physicians cannot diagnose (and are, thus, unable to treat) depression and that 98-99% of those patients would subsequently change their minds about wanting to die once their depression had been treated.

In 1994, the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law recommended that existing law should not be changed to permit assisted suicide or euthanasia because “[l]egalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia would pose profound risks to many individuals who are ill and vulnerable.”  The task force found “the risk of harm is greatest for the many individuals in our society whose autonomy and well-being are already compromised by poverty, lack of access to good medical care, advanced age, or membership in a stigmatized social group.”[5]

The opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Washington v. Glucksberg emphasized this point made by the Task Force. The Court identified suicide as a serious public-health problem, especially among persons in otherwise vulnerable groups.  And the state, said the Court, has an interest in protecting vulnerable groups – including the poor, the elderly, and disabled persons – from abuse, neglect, and mistakes.[6]

It is a shame that Zurich voters either ignored, or were uninformed about, these facts.  For now, however, Zurich has voted to continue to leave the most  vulnerable – both its own citizens, and those from other cities, states, and nations – at risk through its permissive assisted suicide law.

[1] Roger Boyes, “Swiss crackdown on ‘suicide tourism’ could spell end of Dignitas clinic,” Times Online, October 29, 2009, available at

2 See

3Boyes supra note 1. See also, David Brown, “Dignitas founder plans assisted suicide of healthy woman,” TimesOnline, April 3, 2009, available at, Patrick Sawer, “Dignitas founder accused of profiting from assisted suicides,” Telegraph, January 10, 2009, available at,  Olinka Koster, “Swiss Suicide clinic like a backstreet abortionist’s,” DailyMailOnline, January 26, 2007, available at

4 Royal College of Psychiatrists, Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide (Apr. 24, 2006) available at

5 New York State Task Force Report, “When Death is Sought,” New York State Department of Health, available at

6 521 U.S. 702 (1997).