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Cabinet stands firm on assisted suicide

Assisted suicide is tolerated under Swiss law Keystone

Laws governing assisted suicide in Switzerland are sufficient, according to the cabinet, which said on Wednesday it had no plans to tighten the rules.

This content was published on May 31, 2006 - 21:50

Pressure has been mounting for the practice to be more tightly controlled, partly because Switzerland has gained a reputation for "death tourism".

Announcing the decision on Wednesday, Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said "the cabinet had come to the conclusion that [new legislation] was not necessary".

Parliament had called on the government to examine the law which forbids euthanasia, but tolerates assisted suicide, for example by allowing patients to be deprived of life-saving medicine or sustenance, or to be given medicine that shortens their life.

Several organisations in Switzerland exist to advise on and facilitate assisted suicide, and this has led to increasing numbers of foreigners coming to the country specifically to die.

The decision sparked criticism from three of four political parties in government, which accused the cabinet of ignoring the will of parliament.

Guidelines enough

The cabinet decision was based on a report by the justice ministry, which concluded that overarching rules relating to assisted suicide were not practical since each case was different. It said the guidelines of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences were more suited to dealing with the practice.

The cabinet also balked at outlawing assisted suicide in which it is legal to help someone to die provided the person providing assistance has no direct interest.

"All experts were unanimous on this question," Blocher told a news conference. "The law is sufficient here, too."

The cabinet also has no plans to rein in organisations which arrange assisted suicide, including Exit and Dignitas. The cabinet said monitoring their activities would lead to too much bureaucracy and would have the effect of legitimising such groups.

Drugs

The only measure the cabinet said it would consider was whether to make it more difficult to obtain drugs used in assisted suicide. It will consider whether to revise the law in this regard by the end of the year.

The centre-right Radical Party said it intends to file a parliamentary initiative in this month's summer session to force the issue to be revisited.

Blocher's rightwing People's Party is the only one in favour of leaving the legislation untouched on the law books. It opposes assisted suicide and says it doesn't want certain forms to be permitted by law.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide where the act is committed by the patient and the helper has no direct interest.

There are several organisations in Switzerland, such as Exit and Dignitas, which help terminally ill patients choose how to die.

Euthanasia, illegal in Switzerland, is defined as administering a lethal drug to a person by a doctor or medical staff.

The Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences issued guidelines to doctors in 2004 laying down for the first time conditions under which they could help terminally ill patients die.

In Europe, only the Netherlands and Belgium permit taking the life of a person who wishes to die.

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