Adapted from VES –The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of England and WalesFrom the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of England and Wales
Euthanasia and the World
Holland and Oregon are not the only areas which currently permit assisted dying. Although not as well known, countries such as Switzerland and Colombia also have some form of help available.
In Switzerland, assisted suicide is allowed by law under certain circumstances. Article 115 of the Swiss penal code reads as follows:
“A person who, for selfish motives, persuades or assists another person to commit suicide will be punished with imprisonment up to five years.”
This law has been used by EXIT, the Swiss Society for Humane Dying, to legally assist up to 120 terminally ill patients to die each year. They argue that in helping such people to die, they have an absence of ‘selfish motives’, and therefore they have so far been able to exploit this law and avoid prosecution. Their preconditions for supplying such help are as follows:
The person applying for assisted suicide has to be:
1. 18 years or older
2. Mentally competent
3. A member of EXIT
4. Resident of Switzerland
5. Suffering from a serious illness and/or unbearable health troubles with poor prognosis
6. Wanting to die with the help of EXIT
The diagnosis and prognosis of the disease must be confirmed by a physician.
Once a patient has personally contacted EXIT asking for help in dying, a volunteer from the society visits the patient to establish that this request is the genuine wish of a mentally competent adult, who has not been coerced or influenced by another in any way. The patient is requested to obtain confirmation from their doctor of the diagnosis and prognosis of the illness. A decision as to whether help in dying can be given to this patient or not is made by a doctor of EXIT, who in doubtful cases consults with a lawyer and a psychiatrist.
Once it has been decided to help, an EXIT volunteer assists the patient to die with a lethal dose of drugs, always with a witness present (a close friend or relative). Immediately after the death, the police are called. The prosecution attorney, the coroner, a criminologist and other officials will show up to find out whether or not laws have been violated. Up until now, no EXIT helper has had to appear before the court for helping a person commit suicide.
Out of the 100 to 120 patients a year who commit suicide with the help of EXIT, 70% have cancer, 10% cardiovascular disease, 10% neurological disorders, including MND, 5% AIDS, and 5% other conditions.
In May 1997, Colombia’s Constitutional Court – the highest in the land – ruled that it is not a crime to help a terminally ill person to die if they have given clear and precise consent.
The court ruled on constitutional grounds, finding that Colombia’s citizens have a right to die with dignity as well as live with dignity. Legal regulations for the process – or legal opposition and an amendment to the constitution – must now be made by the Colombian parliament.
The decision was made on a case brought by a lawyer who was actually seeking harsher penalties for mercy killing. But, a public opinion poll in May 1997 showed 53% support for legalising help to die.
Countries as varied as Denmark and Singapore, as well as most states of the USA, Canada and Australia, have laws confirming the patient’s right to refuse treatment, for example by making a written declaration such as a living will.