Switzerland voters reject proposed ban on assisted suicide for foreigners

[JURIST] Voters in the Swiss city of Zurich on Sunday rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide [JURIST news archive] for foreigners seeking an end to their lives. The ban was aimed at stopping [BBC report] a phenomenon known as "death tourism" or "suicide tourism" where people travel to Switzerland from abroad to take advantage of its legal assisted suicide. Voters rejected two referenda: one to ban assisted suicide, and the other to limit it only to residents of Zurich. The city had become a popular destination for travelers from countries where assisted suicide remains illegal, including from the neighboring countries of Germany and France. The local organization Dignitas [official website, in German] has helped more than 1,000 people take their own lives. Two conservative parties, the Evangelical People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union [advocacy websites, in German] supported a one-year residency requirement in Zurich before being allowed to use assisted suicide services. Still, the major left and right parties urged voters to strike both referenda. Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941 and permits a non physician with no vested interest in death to provide passive assistance such as providing the necessary drugs.

Last year, Switzerland's Federal Council and Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) [official websites] introduced legislation to establish stricter rules on assisted suicide after a consultation with local governments, government agencies and other organizations found that 75 percent of respondents favored such a bill. In 2007, the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that people with serious mental illnesses may be permitted to commit physician assisted suicide under certain conditions. Also last year, the UK chief prosecutor issued a new policy for prosecuting assisted suicide cases, that, while not totally legalizing the practice, introduced six public interest considerations against prosecution, including compassion of the suspect, an effort to dissuade the victim and reporting the suicide to the police. Barbara Coombs Lee [President, Compassion and Choices] argued in support of the UK's measures [JURIST op-ed] that assisted suicide for terminally ill adults "has become a necessity for peace of mind in an age when medical science has turned the dying process into a long, slow, tortuous path of pain and degradation of function and personhood." In the US, after a ruling by the Montana supreme court [JURIST report] last year, assisted suicide is now legal in three states: Montana, Oregon and Washington.

 

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