Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cashing in on despair

Is the Dignitas Suicide clinic a profit obsessed killing machine.

An article written by Allan Hall and published in the UK Daily Mail investigates the claims of former Dignitas nurse Soraya Wernli who has accused Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas of being obsessed with profit and not with dignity.

Link to the article on the Mail online:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1127413/Cashing-despair-Suicide-clinic-Dignitas-profit-obsessed-killing-machine-claims-ex-worker.html?printingPage=true

When Wernli accepted a job with the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland she thought she was being hired to be a ‘companion’ to assist people in their final journey to the ‘other side’.

She anticipated that her work would involve paperwork, words of comfort, a gentle hand for those about to end their pain-filled lives. This is the work that she was signing up for when she agreed to work for Minelli.

Wernli claims that:
‘just a few days into the job, he (Minelli) asked me to sort through the stuff in these plastic bin liners clogging the stairs.’ Minelli told her to ‘empty the sacks onto a long table ... and sort through everything.

In the sacks Wernli found - Mobile phones, handbags, ladies’ tights, shoes, spectacles, money, purses, wallets, jewels, and more.

Minelli had his “patients” sign forms saying the possessions were now the property of Dignitas. He then sold everything to pawn shops and second-hand shops.

Wernli stated that she felt disgusted. As a nurse and a former care worker for the elderly, she was no stranger to death and she supported assisted suicide.

Wernli worked for the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Zurich for 2½ years. During that time she came to believe that Dignitas was less about ethical euthanasia for the terminally ill and more of a money-making machine for Minelli.

Since leaving the Dignitas clinic in 2005 Wernli has launched lawsuits, acted as an undercover informant for the police and she is now writing a book to expose the ‘production line of death concerned only with profits’ at the Dignitas clinic.

Dignitas has been involved in at least 1000 assisted suicide deaths since its founding. Minelli was operates the Dignitas clinic is the book-keeper, the secretary general-chief accountant and gatekeeper of the organisation.

While working for Dignitas, Wernli assisted the suicides of 35 people and she was well paid making ₤4,500 a month.

The first location for Dignitas was a small apartment in Gertrudstrasse, Zurich where access was only possible via a small elevator. This mean’t that people going into the apartment building and bodies going out of the apartment building needed to use the same elevator.

Wernli stated: ‘The room where people were to die was often filthy, because Minelli skimped on the cleaning bills. Often there would be shoes or underwhere or some other deeply personal item of an earlier victim lying beneath the bed or around the room. It was shameful.’

Wernli stated that Reginald Crew was her first assisted suicide. She stated: ‘Mr. Crew arrived in the morning and was dead just hours later. ... I argued that it wasn’t right that people land at the airport, are ferried to his office, have their requisite half-an-hour with a doctor, get the barbituates ...and are then sent off to die.’

She said that she told Minelli: ‘This is the biggest step anyone will ever take. They should at least be allowed to stay overnight, to think about what they are doing.’

Wernli said that Minelli would have none of it. She claims that he once said that if he had his way, he would have vending machines where people could buy barbiturates to end their lives as easy as buying a soft drink or a bar of chocolate.

When asked about the assisted suicide of Daniel James, Wernli said that he was by no means the first person to have been helped to die who wasn’t terminally ill.’

Wernli then described the case of Robert & Jennifer Stokes from the UK who were in their 50's, both had a history of mental illness and failed suicide attempts. They did claim to be suffering from chronic conditions but neither one of them were dying and yet Dignitas assisted their suicides.

Wernli claims that she argued with Minelli that double suicides should never be sanctioned. She told him that one partner may want to die simply because he or she cannot cope with being alone. Later she learned that Minelli continued the practice of double suicides with another of the workers caring out those assisted suicide deaths.

The case of Martha Hauschildt was another concern that Wernli expressed. She explained that Hauschildt paid Minelli 200,000 Swiss frans for her assisted suicide whereas most of the time the people were charged ₤7,000 for an assisted suicide and funeral. Many wealthy people bequeathed ‘vast sums’ to Minelli in their Will. Minelli paid the doctors 500 Swiss francs for each assisted suicide prescription.

The gruesome 70-hour death of Peter Auhagen was the case that ended Wernli’s career with Dignitas and caused her to agree to be a secret informer for the police who were investigating Minelli.

Usually Minelli used a lethal dose of barbiturates to assist suicides but in the case of Auhagen, Minelli decided to test a “suicide machine” that the patient controlled the administration of drugs. Wernli said that: ‘the machine had a fault which meant it couldn’t pump all the poison into his system. The man was partially poisoned, in agony and thrashing around in a coma, frothing at the mouth and sweating. ... It was a terrible thing to witness, and I knew it could not go on.

Wernli recounts that Auhagen was still alive. She called Minelli who then came by and after a heated discussion he told the family to go for a walk and then someone administered the drugs by injection. Wernli claims that Minelli kept a supply of drugs in his personal office in case of an emergency.

Nearly four years after leaving her employment with Dignitas, the assisted suicide clinic remains open. Current employees are made to sign a privacy agreement to end any further leaks of information.

Wernli has not given up on her hope to close the Dignitas clinic. She stated: ‘this is Switzerland, and things move slowly, if at all. All I can promise is that I will not stop speaking out because Dignitas is an organisation that must be stopped.’

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