Suicide tourism to Switzerland has been the subject of a scientific investigation, and the study published by the Journal of Medical Ethics on Aug. 20 shows that the number of tourists travelling to Switzerland in order to commit suicide has doubled during the past four years. According to the study, suicide tourists (which includes non-Swiss residents) included German, British, French, and Italian citizens to be among the top ten. The number of tourists from Germany included 268 citizens, Britain 126 citizens, France 66 citizens, Italy 44 citizens, and the United States 21 citizens.
The assisted suicide study titled “Suicide tourism: a pilot study on the Swiss phenomenon” was published by Dr. Saskia Gauthier from the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Zurich, along with other researchers. The study analyzed 611 cases of assisted suicide during the year 2008 to 2012. During those years, tourists from 31 different countries went to Switzerland in order to die. The median age of those tourists was 69 years of age. Quite interestingly, more than half of those tourists, 58.5 percent, were women.
While almost half of those tourists suffered from paralysis, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis, non-terminal health conditions such as neurological and rheumatic diseases are becoming increasing reasons for suicide tourists to come to Switzerland. Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since the 1940s, and the cost of dying in Switzerland by means of assisted suicide runs to about $3,000 per person.
Assisted suicide is not the same as euthanasia. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In the U.S., there are assisted dying laws restricted to terminally ill and mentally competent adults in Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont. In euthanasia (sometimes called “mercy killing”), a physician administers the means of death, usually a lethal drug. In an assisted suicide, the person has to take the final action and administer the means of death on his or her own. If unable to take a lethal drug on one’s own (due to a disease), assisted suicide becomes impossible.
As depicted in a 2011 video, Craig Ewert, a 59-year-old American who suffered from ALS, was one of those suicide tourists who travelled to Switzerland to die by his own hand before he was no longer able to do so. The touching video shows his decision when and where to die – in the company of his wife Mary.
According to Julian Mausbach, a co-author of the study on suicide tourism to Switzerland and researcher at Zurich University’s Center of Excellence for Medicine, Ethics and Law, Switzerland is “doing the job that is not being done elsewhere because the regulations in other countries do not offer the opportunity.” The nonprofit group Dignitas, which supports patients’ right “to live with dignity” and “ to die with dignity,” was involved in nearly all the cases of suicide tourism in the study.