Voters in Zurich, Switzerland supported the legality of assisted suicide in two measures which sought to ban the practice. The first would have banned assisted suicide, which has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, completely, while the other proposed limiting assisted suicide to Zurich residents only, in an attempt to curb the tide of foreigners who take advantage of Switzerland’s liberal policy and travel to Switzerland to die. 85% of voters rejected the overall ban, and 78% voted against the second proposal.
The results were a sweeping affirmation of Swiss support for assisted suicide, despite the fact that before the election, 66% of Swiss people were said to oppose “suicide tourism.” Active suicide is illegal in Switzerland, so while patients can be prescribed deadly drugs, they must ingest them without any assistance from others.
The unease about “suicide tourism” came amid revelations that more and more people seeking assisted suicides do not suffer from a terminal illness, combined with the growing numbers of foreigners traveling to Switzerland to take their own life. Overall, about 200 people commit assisted suicide in Zurich each year. Although some organizations did not object to foreigners’ taking advantage of Switzerland’s liberal laws (one local organization, Dignitas, says that it has helped over 1,000 foreigners take their lives), others said that the decision required significant counseling and will thus only accept patients who reside in Switzerland.
“We cannot solve the dying problems of the rest of Europe,” Bernard Sutter, of the organization Exit, said. “And we think it is very sad that very ill people have to travel thousands of kilometres to go to a liberal country to die there. These other countries should solve their own problems with dying people, so we would be happy if Germany, or Great Britain, would change their laws.”
Two conservative political parties supported the bans, but overall, the measures were unpopular politically. According to the BBC, however, polls “show voters do want clearer national legislation setting out conditions under which assisted suicide is permitted,” and the Swiss government intends to revise federal regulations on assisted suicide.
Of course, if assisted suicide were legal in more countries, this might not be an issue. It’s a tricky subject, and it’s understandable that the Swiss would want to support their legislation, which allows terminally ill people to die under their own terms, with dignity and respect. But it’s certainly important enough that the Swiss government should make sure that patients and their families have undergone significant counseling and are fully committed to their decision.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.