A new study has revealed that the number of people who are travelling to Switzerland’s assisted dying clinics has doubled over the past three years. Of these, British people are said to make up the second largest group. Germany has an increased number of ‘suicide tourists’ who visit the clinics.
During 2008 to 2012, 126 Britons made the choice to die in Zurich, most of them visiting Dignitas, and a few have made use of the less well-known clinics, such as Exit.
During 2012, 29 people travelled to Switzerland from the UK to end their lives. This was the highest number ever and calculates to around one every two weeks.
The figures obtained by the University of Zurich from available data at the Zurich Institute of Legal Medicine, was analysed by Oxford University.
The analysis found that the number of people travelling to Switzerland to die had increased by 40% during a four-year period. During 2008, there were 123 cases and this had risen to 172 by 2012.
A medical law and ethics lecturer from Oxford University, Dr Charles Foster, said the UK has not been forced to confront this issue as they are getting another country to do their dirty work. He said that England has had the opportunity to outsource its assisted suicides to Switzerland. He said this has allowed them to avoid directly facing the issues linked to liberalising and not liberalising existing English law. He added that if Switzerland was happy to continue offering this facility, then regardless of how intellectually dishonest it may be to allow that country to take on all Britain’s fear, debate, angst and pain, it will produce less overall harm than the UK introducing any type of assisted suicide law.
Campaigners and charities have stated that it is unethical for Britons to be forced to travel abroad to end their lives.
The chief executive of Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton, said that the number of Britons travelling to Switzerland for assisted dying indicates that there is a definite problem with the law in Britain.
The study revealed that women were more likely to end their own lives than men. Of the number of ‘suicide tourists’, 58.5% were female. The average age of these people was 69, although the ages ranged from 23 to 97.
The most reasons for this choice, which accounted for around 47% of cases, were neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and paralysis.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, provided that the helper will not personally benefit from the death.
In Britain, the Suicide Act of 1961 makes encouragement of or assistance in a suicide or suicide attempt in England and Wales, an offence. Anyone involved in doing this could face 14 years imprisonment.
During 2009, Debbie Purdy requested a ruling on whether her husband would have to face prosecution if he accompanied her to Dignitas. The Director of Public Prosecutions stated that it would be unlikely.
The Assisted Dying Bill by Lord Falconer is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords after it had passed the second reading during July. This legislation would give doctors the right to prescribe a lethal dosage to terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live.
The disability rights groups and the medical profession are not in support of the bill as they say that the current law is there to protect society’s most vulnerable.
The Faculty of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University’s Dr Alison Twycross, said that in matters concerned with life and death, you may not be able to create freedom for a few without removing sufficient safeguards for many.
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