Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Swiss voters to vote on assisted suicide in Zurich Canton

This Sunday, the Canton of Zurich will be voting on whether or not to ban or restrict assisted suicide in the Canton by stopping death tourism.

An article by Ariane Gigon in Swissinfo explains how assisted suicide has become a political issue in Zurich. The article states:

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. But since the 1990s pressure has grown on politicians following various scandals involving the deaths of mentally ill patients and so-called “suicide tourists”.

Christoph Blocher, justice minister from 2004-2007 and a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, didn’t want to change the status quo. His successor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf from the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party wanted to ban assisted suicide but nothing happened.

The ball is currently in the court of Simonetta Sommaruga, from the centre-left Social Democratic Party, who has promised a new bill “in the first half of 2011”.

This explains the high symbolic value of the Zurich vote. No one is giving either vote a chance of passing – they are judged almost impossible to apply because they violate the principle of non-discrimination between citizens.

But Bernhard Sutter, spokesman for assisted suicide organisation Exit in the German-speaking part of the country, is hoping for a clear result “to send Simonetta Sommaruga a strong signal”.

Sommaruga has indicated she wishes to include questions of suicide prevention and palliative care in her response.

The parties seeking to ban assisted suicide in canton Zurich are the Christian-based Evangelical People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union.

The advocates of the ban believe palliative care is the best option to take care of seriously ill people at the end of their lives.

They also believe that assisted suicide damages Zurich’s image, not to mention the cost to the taxpayer of SFr3,000-5,000 ($3,400-5,700) per case for the legal medical tests.

“Those who take their own life do not die in dignity but in moral distress and despair,” they claim.

Supporters of assisted suicide insist on the right to self-determination. However, a majority reject suicide tourism: when foreigners travel to Switzerland to end their lives.

Exit and Dignitas, the two biggest assisted suicide organisations in Switzerland, are not working together on a campaign, but they both warn against banning assisted suicide or creating insurmountable obstacles to getting a doctor’s approval.

Canadian criminologist Russel D Ogden, who considers the current Swiss model one of the best in the world.

“Every case of assisted suicide is subject to an official enquiry and can be documented,” he said.

But he fears that if the government introduces greater obstacles to gaining access to assisted suicide, “it will lose the control that it is looking to obtain. As a result, people will observe the precautionary criteria less than the specialist organisations do today”.

Ogden points to the increasing use of helium in suicides in countries that ban assisted suicide, such as Germany.

Dignitas, which helps around 100 people end their lives a year (a third less than before 2008 and the introduction of the obligation in Zurich to consult a doctor twice instead of once), resorted to helium four times in 2008 but has not used it since. Exit says it has never used gas.
We hope that the citizens of Zurich will recognize how assisted suicide threatens the lives of vulnerable people. That suicide tourists are often subtly coerced into an assisted death out of fear of being abandoned rather than being assured that they will be cared for until they die a natural death.

It is interesting that Russel Ogden, the leader of the Farewell Foundation, a group in British Columbia Canada that has been set-up in a similar fashion to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Zurich, continues to pass himself off to the media as a researcher and expert instead of promoting himself as a suicide activist and an activist who has been involved with NuTech.

The Farewell Foundation is attempting to overturn Canada's assisted suicide law through the court.

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