Swiss doctors adopt tighter assisted suicide guidelines

Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since the 1940s. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

New regulations for doctors dealing with euthanasia cases have been criticised as too harsh and difficult to implement by assisted suicide organisations.

This content was published on May 20, 2022

The guidelines agreedExternal link yesterday by the Swiss Medical Association notably state that “assisted suicide for healthy persons is not medically and ethically justifiable”. As such, a healthy person who wants to end their life must in future prove that their suffering is “unbearable”, and that “other options have been unsuccessful or are rejected by the patient as unreasonable”.

Patients should also have at least two meetings – at least two weeks apart – with a doctor before the final decision, for “detailed discussions” to ensure that their desire is “well-considered and enduring”.

The move brings the medical association directly into line with the ethical guidelines agreed in 2018 by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences. While not legally binding, they will form part of the deontological code to be adhered to by doctors in future.

Infringement of rights?

In a joint statement, the major Swiss assisted suicide organisations said the guidelines were legally inadmissible, and would make it more difficult to provide help to those who want to end their lives. Notably, the requirement that a doctor decide on the “severity” of a patient’s condition is an infringement of the individual right to define the extent of one’s subjective suffering, they say.

Jean-Jacques Bise, co-president of the EXIT Suisse romande group, told public radio RTS that the new regulations were unpractical – specifically the requirement to sit for two interviews with a doctor beforehand, which he said would be difficult to enforce in urgent cases.

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. It has been legal in the country since the 1940s, and assisted suicides represent around 1.5% of the 67,000 deaths recorded on average each year.

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