Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Assisted suicide, the debate continues in England and Switzerland

Assisted suicide, a widely repugnant transaction, continues to be the subject of public discussion in England. The Telegraph reports a new poll: Assisted suicide: 4 in 5 say do not prosecute.

"The public’s support for a change in the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia was uncovered by the YouGov poll following a succession of high profile court cases.
Three quarters of those polled said the law should be amended to allow assisted suicide, a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. "...

"Sir Terry Pratchett, the author who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, is due to deliver a lecture in which he will call for assisted suicide "tribunals" that would give the terminally ill permission to end their lives. In the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, he will offer himself as a test case for just such a tribunal... Sir Terry, who prefers the term "assisted death", will say that permission to end his life will make each day more precious, and that doctors should not be forced to help the terminally ill to die. ... "If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice." "

The WSJ has an article about the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas, and the debate going on in Switzerland about the the laws governing assisted suicide:
Assisted-Suicide Pioneer Stirs a Legal Backlash

"From the start, Mr. Minelli has kicked up controversy for his willingness to help foreigners die. Most groups in Switzerland don't assist foreigners. Dignitas only helps foreigners. The number of foreigners Dignitas helps each year—132 in 2007, compared to 91 in 2003—has increasingly left the Swiss uncomfortable with the country's growing reputation for "suicide tourism." As of the end of last year, Dignitas had helped a total of 1,046 people to commit suicide. "...

"Under Swiss law, it is illegal for a person to assist a suicide for their own "selfish" reasons. But there are otherwise no limits on helping someone to die. By contrast, most countries allowing assisted suicide require the person to be terminally ill or demand that a doctor assist the suicide. Switzerland is also the only country permitting right-to-die organizations to help foreigners die.
"At the moment, there is really no law," says Andreas Brunner, a Zurich prosecutor who has fought for greater restrictions on right-to-die organizations, particularly Dignitas. "You have to have some rules and standards. The worst solution is what we have now."
As medical advances prolong lives even for the seriously ill, the debate over assisted suicide is surging elsewhere.
In Oregon—the one state in the U.S. where assisted suicide is legal—doctors are allowed to help only state residents who are expected to die within six months.
The U.K., which has restrictive laws on euthanasia, was forced in a court case last fall to clarify whether it would prosecute Britons who help family members make the trip to Switzerland to die. (It won't.) Luxembourg legalized euthanasia last year. Activists in Belgium and the Netherlands are pushing to broaden the group of patients who can avail themselves of assisted suicide to the elderly, minors and chronically ill. "...

"In 2008, when neighbors' complaints forced Dignitas out of the rented apartment it had long used for suicides, Zurich city officials refused permission for a new venue.
So, Mr. Minelli organized suicides in cars, a hotel room and his own home, drawing the ire of local officials. For a time, he was forced to use the industrial site criticized by Mr. Gall. "Someone who is used to a five-star hotel can't come to Dignitas and expect the same," Mr. Minelli says.
The Zurich prosecutor's office spoke with family members who complained about the 10,000-Swiss-franc fee Mr. Minelli charges people to die, but found insufficient grounds to open an inquiry. One rival right-to-die organization asks for nothing beyond a 45-Swiss-franc membership fee, while another charges 4,000 Swiss francs. Mr. Minelli says the fee helps with his legal and lobbying expenses. "...

"Mr. Minelli argues that making assisted suicide available removes a taboo around suicide, helping people who want to kill themselves open a dialogue and seek help. About 70% of people who get the green light from Dignitas for an assisted suicide never contact the group again, proving the palliative effect of knowing help is available, he says. "
"A vote is planned in March on a bill that would sharply restrict the activities of right-to-die organizations. For instance, two doctors must testify that a person is terminally ill, thus ruling out assistance for the chronically or mentally ill. The person seeking help must have given long consideration to his wish to die before doctors can prescribe lethal drugs. Moreover, right-to-die groups would be barred from accepting payments beyond those covering the costs of the suicide. The government also tabled a second bill that would ban assisted suicides altogether. "

The debate has taken a dramatic turn, beginning with a BBC narrator stating on air “I killed someone once.”
The Prime Minister has weighed in too: Gordon Brown: don't legalise assisted suicide.

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