03.3405 – Motion.
Training in Issues around Assisted Suicide for the Faculty of Medicine
Submitted by: Anne-Catherine Menétrey-Savary
Date of submission: 20 June 2003
Submitted to: National Council
Current status: Not yet considered in the assembly
With this motion, we ask that training in the following subjects be added to the curriculum of the Faculty of Medicine in order to address various issues raised by assisted suicide. This training could be incorporated into a course on death and dying or medical psychology.
On December 11, 2001, our Council rejected a parliamentary initiative authorizing active euthanasia, even under very limited conditions. But the debate served as a reminder that assisting with suicide is not a punishable offense, since Article 115 of the Penal Code does not prohibit such assistance unless it is practiced for self-serving reasons. Assisted suicide can be considered if the following five conditions are fulfilled: Mental competence of the patient; serious and repeated requests; incurable illness; unbearable physical or mental suffering; a terminal prognosis or major disability in non-cancer cases.
If the right to life is to remain fundamental, the right to die with dignity must be recognized as well. Society’s attitudes on this subject have evolved; people are more and more open to letting the dying choose how their lives should end when they are in intolerable pain. Requests for help are becoming more and more frequent. Often, we see assisted suicide and the possibility of developing palliative care as opposites. But while palliative care does not always relieve a patient’s physical suffering, at least it relieves psychological pain. These two ways of helping a person at life’s end are complementary, not opposed.
Doctors often feel very uncomfortable when faced with requests to help a patient commit suicide. Their training, their ethics, and above all their ideas about what their role should be make it difficult for them to enter into this discussion without a certain level of discomfort. The issue can make them deeply question themselves and their positions, as if the death of a patient had been for them a personal defeat, a mark of their helplessness to save people; the taboo against “unnatural” death can take precedence over the patient’s wishes. However, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences recently took the following position on the subject: “In certain cases, assisted suicide can be considered part of a physician’s duty; to provide competent and comprehensive support through the final great passage, the transition from life to death”.
Doctors have already learned to overcome rigid attitudes about therapy, and to stop continuing care against the wishes of the patient and his or her loved ones (passive euthanasia). It is important that if they wish to, doctors can also acquire the needed knowledge or techniques for the practice of assisted suicide. This kind of assistance requires that patients be informed about their condition and that we respect their right to the truth. The techniques for giving this kind of information must also be taught.
Death is an event which deserves preparation, with the help of people trained for that role. This is why we believe such training must be offered within the framework of the study of medicine.
Jurisdiction: Department of the Interior