Switzerland: Assisted Suicide Deaths Up 700% in 11 Years

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 29, 2012   |   1:23PM   |   Washington, DC

New figures published by a British newspaper show the number of assisted suicide deaths in Switzerland have jumped 700 percent in just 11 years, with more women taking their lives in assisted suicides than men.

As the London Daily Mail reports, the number of Swiss residents who died by assisted suicide rose sevenfold between 1998 and 2009.

Official figures published for the first time reveal almost 300 Swiss residents died this way in 2009, compared to just 43 in 1998, the Federal Statistics Office said. In 90 percent of cases, those who resorted to assisted suicide were over 55, and more women were likely to receive help ending their lives than men.

Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, if performed by a non-physician who has no direct interest in the death. Euthanasia, or ‘mercy killing’, is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon.

Swiss rules are among the world’s most liberal, but the government has looked to tighten the law to ensure it is only used as a last resort for the terminally ill.

Cancer was cited as the decisive factor in almost half of cases, while neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases also figured among the underlying causes. Depression accounted for only 3 percent of assisted deaths.

The official figures come after numbers in February from organizations that promote suicide tourism — where residents of the world, but mostly from European nations like England, come to Switzerland to be killed by pro-assisted suicide groups.

More people killed themselves via assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2011, according to new figures from the organization that runs the clinics that have come under so much controversy in Europe.

Exit, which promotes assisted suicide for residents of Switzerland, and Dignitas, which promotes so-called suicide tourism, say the numbers are up. Exit indicates it killed 416 people last year in assisted suicides, with 305 of the deaths occurring in the German-speaking part of the European nation — an increase over the 257 in 2010 — while 11 people were killed in the French speaking portion of the country, up from 91 in 2010.

The group also informed Swiss Info that it saw an increase in membership that now numbers 75,000 and he said the average age of someone dying was 74 and they died in their homes. Seven people were of average age of 88 and they died in nursing homes.

A former worker for a Dignitas suicide clinic, Soraya Wernli, spent two and a half years working at a suicide clinic. She told the London Daily Mail newspaper she began to see the suicide clinic not as the compassionate place for ending lives but as a money-making killing machine taking advantage of the disabled and terminally ill.

In recent years, Dignitas came under investigation for allegedly killing a man with depression. Under the euthanasia law in Switzerland, someone can only be killed in an assisted suicide if they suffer from a terminal illness. Swiss Judge Philippe Barboni has ordered an investigation of the death of Andrei Haber, a Romanian who lived in Fribourg.

Meanwhile, Dignitas, say it was responsible for the deaths of 144 people in 2011, which is a 35 percent increase from the prior year. The organization said it has helped 164 British residents kill themselves over 13 years and added that it has 770 British members.