Organised assisted suicide to be regulated

Federal Council presents two options for consultation

Press Release, FDJP, 28.10.2009

Berne. The Federal Council wishes to lay down specific regulations for organised assisted suicide. It is proposing two options that will change Swiss criminal law: the determination in the Penal Code of clear duties of care for employees of assisted suicide organisations, or a complete ban on organised assisted suicide per se. On Wednesday, the Federal Council presented the two versions of its bill, as well as an explanatory report, for consultations that will last until 1 March 2010.

Essentially, the Federal Council does not wish to take anything away from the current, liberal legislation, which permits someone to assist a suicide provided they are not motivated by their own interests. However, since assisted suicide organisations are increasingly testing the boundaries of the law, and in some cases evading state and professional monitoring mechanisms, the Federal Council sees an urgent need to lay down guidelines and restrictions. These should prevent organised assisted suicide becoming a profit-driven business. They should also ensure that assisted suicide is available to terminally ill patients only, remaining closed to those with a chronic or mental illness. Suicide can only be the very last resort. The Federal Council believes in the paramount importance of protecting human life. Specifically, it wishes to promote palliative care and suicide prevention to offer suicidal individuals alternatives to taking their own life.

Option 1: Strict duties of care

The bill preferred by the Federal Council would amend Article 115 of the Swiss Penal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) and the identical Article 149 of the Military Penal Code (Militärstrafgesetz) to include a number of duties of care. The following elements are significant in this regard:

Free and lasting will
Under the new regulations, in a specific case of assisted suicide, employees of assisted suicide organisations would be committing a criminal offence unless it can be proven that they have observed all of the duties of care laid down in the Penal Code. First of all, the suicidal person must freely declare their wish to die, and must have given long and proper consideration to their decision. This provision is intended to prevent impetuous decisions that have not been thought through.

Two doctor's certificates required
In addition, the person who wishes to die must present two certificates from two different doctors who are independent of the assisted suicide organisation. One of the certificates must attest that the suicidal person has the legal capacity to decide for themselves; the second must state that the suicidal person suffers from a physical illness that is incurable and will result in death within a short period. This would rule out organised assisted suicide for those with chronic illnesses that are not in themselves terminal, and for those suffering mental illness. Comprehensive treatment, care and support, in the sense of palliative medicine, should allow these people to continue to live in dignity.

No commercial purpose
Furthermore, those assisting a suicide must discuss and examine alternatives to suicide with the person concerned. The drug that is used must have been prescribed by a doctor. This demands that a diagnosis and the corresponding indications be established in accordance with the physician's professional obligations and duties of care. Those assisting a suicide may not be pursuing commercial ends. They may not accept any payment for their services that would exceed the costs and expenses of the assisted suicide. This provision ensures that those assisting a suicide are not driven by personal gain, and that their prime motivation is to help the person who wishes to die. Finally, the assisted suicide organisation and those who actually assisted the suicide must document each case comprehensively in order to help any enquiries on the part of the criminal prosecution authorities.

The Federal Council firmly believes that, by determining these duties of care, the negative aspects and abuse of organised assisted suicide can be prevented, and "suicide tourism" can be reduced.

Option 2: Ban on organised assisted suicide

As an alternative to more restrictive legislation, the Federal Council has also tabled a complete ban on organised assisted suicide for debate by the Swiss parliament. This option rests on the belief that individuals working in assisted suicide organisations are never actually motivated by purely altruistic reasons, and may develop a close relationship with the suicidal person.

Contact / questions
Bernardo Stadelmann, Federal Office of Justice, T +41 31 322 41 33, Contact