So-called “Suicide Tourism” has become a booming industry in Switzerland thanks to liberal Swiss laws allowing physician-assisted suicide, CNN is reporting.
A study conducted by the Swiss Institute of Legal Medicine, and published in the international medical journal Law, Ethics, and Medicine this week, revealed that there were 611 cases of “Suicide Tourism” in Switzerland between 2008 and 2012. Reports indicate that 172 people came to Switzerland for physician-assisted suicide in 2012, double the 86 that came the previous year. The “Suicide Tourism” statistics for 2013, and thus far in 2014, are not yet available.
According to the study, the vast majority of the assisted suicides were carried out by injecting the patient with sodium pentobarbital, a toxin that causes respiratory failure.
Most of the suicide tourists came from Europe; specifically, the U.K. and Germany, which sent the most. A handful came from the United States, according to UPI. In the United Kingdom, the term “going to Switzerland” has become a euphemism for “committing suicide,” according to the study.
Europe, collectively, has varying laws about physician-assisted suicide. In some places — the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France, for example — it is completely illegal. In Germany, assisted suicide is technically legal, but in a practical sense, it’s illegal; a doctor can be held criminally liable for failing to act if they witness a patient going unconscious under their care. However, in Switzerland, the law specifically allows physician-assisted suicide as long as the physician does not have a specific interest in the patient’s death.
In the United States, four states — Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana — allow for physician-assisted suicide, according to Euthanasia Pro-Con. However, assisted suicide is considered murder under federal law, and can result in a prison sentence. Dr. Jack Kervorkian, for example, famously served a prison sentence for his role in assisted suicides.
The reasons for tourists coming to Switzerland to commit suicide vary, according to Swiss right-to-die group DIGNITAS. Most such tourists have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses, particularly, painful and/or chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease — the same disease Robin Williams was diagnosed with before he committed suicide (see this Inquisitr article).
Don’t expect to see physician-assisted suicide becoming legal across the U.S. any time soon. The issue has not been seriously discussed in Washington for over a decade, and many medical ethicists — and conservative politicians — in the United States are firmly against it. Dr. James Salwitz says, on KevinMD:
“If we ratify suicide we may be helping a very few, but we neglect many. We fail to emphasize quality life, at the end of life, by good communication, good planning and good care. We fail to demand of doctors and the medical system what is possible. We discard the potential to live, learn and love in the last days, weeks, or months, and instead say, ‘Your life is worthless, make it easier on all of us, take this pill and die.'”
Do you believe that assisted suicide should be legal? Do you believe that the business of “suicide tourism” puts Switzerland in a bad light? Let us know what you think in the comments.
[Image courtesy of: Discovery]