November 5, 2008

More People Turning To Assisted Suicide

A growing number of people who are turning to assisted suicides in Switzerland do not actually have a terminal illness according to a study released on Tuesday.

Many elderly people who sought assistance to end their lives in Switzerland actually suffered from chronic and other non-life-threatening conditions, according to researchers from the University of Zurich and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

"Being tired of life and in very poor health are becoming more frequent reasons to seek help to commit suicide than in the past," said Susanne Fischer, co-author of the review of assisted suicides in Zurich undertaken by two groups, Exit and Dignitas.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since the 1940s if performed by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death.

Both Exit and Dignitas use lethal drugs prescribed by a physician to end the lives of those who seek their help.

Researchers studied 421 people who had assisted suicides between 2001 and 2004 in Zurich.

Dignitas conducted 274, and Exit aided 147.

Among the people who underwent assisted suicides with Dignitas, 79 percent had terminal illnesses such as cancer. However, the proportion was smaller for Exit at 67 percent who were terminally ill.

The study found from 1990 to 2000, some 78 percent of those who ended their lives with the help of Exit had fatal conditions.

Exit rejected the study's findings in a statement saying there was "no trend" of people justifying their wish to die with "vague sick-of-life" symptoms.

"The figures are not representative of all Switzerland. Also, the researchers did not have the full diagnosis of the doctors," Bernhard Sutter of Exit's board said.

"We help only people with fatal diseases or who are very seriously ill. For the last 12 years, the number suffering from fatal diseases has always been the same, between 65 and 75 percent. The rest, maybe a third or less, are very ill."

He countered that many in the latter category have multiple diseases whose total effect extreme suffering.

"We work with doctors who have their medical code and will not issue a prescription (for the lethal drugs) if someone is not in a bad state," Sutter said.
The suicides take place in peoples' homes or in hotel rooms.