Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Atlantic Monthly publishes an in-depth article concerning Ludwig Minelli and the Dignitas Suicide Clinic

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The March 2010 edition of the Atlantic monthly magazine has published an in-depth article written by Bruce Falconer about Ludwig Minelli and the Dignitas Suicide Clinic that he founded in Switzerland.

The article, that is generally fair except that Falconer didn’t interview Soraya Wernli, the former Dignitas employee who has accused Minelli of ethical and financial improprieties and a lack of concern for vulnerable people.

The article centers on the opening of the new “death house” that Dignitas has called the Blue Oasis. In the past, dignitas operated out of an apartment but Dignitas was evicted after the residents of the building complained about body bags in the elevator. After being evicted from their apartment, Dignitas rented space next to a brothel and facilitated suicides in cars that were parked in empty lots.

Soraya Wernli

The article explained that their were four assisted suicide groups in Switzerland with Dignitas being the only group that assisted the suicides for foreign suicide tourists.

The Blue Oasis is a two-story blue house situated next to a machine factory in the industrial area east of Zurich. The yard featured flowering trees, tall grass, and a round pond with lily pads and goldfish. The inside is decorated with paintings of rural Swiss landscapes. The front hallway has an interesting framed cartoon of a man concealing a vial of poison behind his back and waving off people approaching him with a wheelchair and a box of diapers.

Dignitas was founded by Minelli twelve years ago after resigning from the board of one of the other assisted suicide groups, a group that he had joined in 1992 as its legal advisor, based on the squabbling of its board members.

Interviews with the workers:

The article features interviews with several of the Dignitas employees.

Silvan Luley, a 39 year old law student, said that most of the employees came in through friends or family. His mother had been one of Minelli’s first employees. Some employees had contacted Minelli for assisted suicide, but wound up working for him instead.

Another Dignitas employee referred to as “Arnold”, a chain-smoking man who had swept back greasy hair, grey stuble, a blue polyester shirt and dirty shorts, started working for them in 2004. Arnold estimated that he had assisted the suicides of at least 200 people. The first person was a former British military officer who was suffering the pains of old age. After the death, Arnold stated that “I could not go to sleep, I could only go out and dance.” He said responded the same way after each of the first few deaths.

“Arnold” was featured in the documentary about Dignitas that featured an American man with motor neuron disease (ALS). After viewing the documentary, his landlord changed the locks on his apartment to evict him.


The article explained that assisted suicide in Switzerland was technically legalized in 1942.

In the modern era, the concept of euthanasia was first popularized by an English schoolteacher named Samuel D. Williams. The first attempt to legalize euthanasia was in the state of Ohio where two bills were introduced in 1906 that would have legalized euthanasia for terminally ill adults and “hideously deformed and idiotic children.”

In the 1920's German scientists established numerous academic centers devoted to eugenics. These centers promoted euthanasia as a means of eliminating physical and mental imperfections from the gene pool. They believed promoted the idea that there was human life - unworthy of life and their ideas were adopted by the Nazi’s leading to the T4 euthanasia program and the Holocaust in general.

Interview with Minelli:

Minelli, who is 77 years old, said he was an committed atheist, but as a child he dreamt of becoming a priest.

Ludwig Minelli
Minelli began his career as a journalist but in 1977 he changed direction after reporting on the impending ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights. He entered law school and became a human-rights lawyer.

Minelli considers “the right to die” to be the last human right. Last year a BBC article quoted him as saying assisted suicide was: “a marvelous possibility given to a human being.”

Minelli does not personally attend the suicide deaths. He stated: 

“In case something happens on the lower level which is not in accordance with the law, it would not be easy for authorities to open an action against me.”
Last year Minelli promoted four assisted suicides that were done by helium. Minelli promoted this technique to prove to authorities that he didn’t need the approval of physicians

Falconer was surprised that Minelli referred him to Hebert Mataré, a 97 year-old German physicist who was planning to die at the Dignitas clinic. Mataré, a strong supporter of Minelli, is experiencing symptoms related to his age, but he is not terminally or even chronically ill. Mataré has become a eugenics researcher who believes that certain populations must stop having children because they are polluting the gene pool and impeding human progress.

Mataré considers Minelli to be a natural ally to his philosophy. He said:
 “It jibes with the solution to overpopulation, because it is the right of everyone, a human right, to say, ‘Stop, I don’t want to live anymore.”
Mataré also stated: 
“Life is not sacred, not at all, when you’re no longer useful you have to go.”
Mataré expressed a concern that Minelli pressured him to end his life. He stated that he had traveled to the Dignitas clinic twice already and each time he changed his mind. He said that the staff found this humorous but Minelli asked to be compensated for the wasted effort.

Richard & Jenny Geary:

Falconer met with Richard & Jenny Geary from the UK who were preparing for Jenny to die by assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic. Jenny (61) had a similar condition to Parkinson’s disease.

Richard explained that he had made the arrangements that included a series of payments of more than $10,000 to Dignitas. The Geary’s children grudgingly agreed to support them in their decision to go to Dignitas.

Richard explained: 

“You wouldn’t leave your dog on the kitchen floor when it can’t walk, can’t eat, and can’t go outside to the toilet. Transform one life form to another, and you’ve got Jenny in six months.”
When Falconer asked Jenny why she didn’t - ride out the illness and make the best of her remaining time? Richard responded: 
“The weakest of any herd gets killed by a lion or a tiger. Some animals will kill the weakest of the young. But somehow, because of our intelligence, we go against that, ... I just feel that, with all our scientific advancements, there has to be a better way of controlling death.” Jenny nodded in agreement. She then said “I’m apprehensive, I’m scared the drink won’t be strong enough.”
Dignitas claims to have 6000 members world-wide. Membership is paid on a yearly basis and gives the member the right to die by assisted suicide at Dignitas.

Dignitas is different from the other three assisted suicide groups in Switzerland because they require an office. The other groups assist suicides in the persons home.

Falconer states that there is no proof concerning the rumors that Minelli has his employees remove watches, jewelry, cell phones, etc from their “clients.” with Minelli then selling those items to pawn shops.

Minelli confirmed that one rumor was true. Minelli said he stores the urns until he has enough of them to load into his car. He then drives, usually at night, to a quiet spot on Lake Zurich, and tosses the remains into the water. Minelli insists that these burials are harmless but last year he was warned by Zurich’s water authority after they received complaints of human bone fragments washing up on shore.

What’s Next:
Minelli continues to use the case of Betty Coumbias, the Canadian woman who had asked to die at the Dignitas clinic with her chronically ill husband. Coumbias was healthy at the time (since then she died in Canada) therefore the Dignitas doctor refused to prescribe a lethal dose for her. Minelli is pressuring Zurich medical authorities to grant permission to prescribe a lethal dose to virtually anyone who asks to die.

Meanwhile politicians in Switzerland are viewing Dignitas as a national embarrassment and are considering ways to eliminate suicide tourism in Switzerland.

Link to the article:


Anonymous said...

Who's this David Levene? The article was written by Bruce Falconer.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Sorry - David Levene was the person who was given the photo credit. It is written by Bruce Falconer.