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Euthanasia laws cannot be shared

At the 15th biennial conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies in Tokyo during the first week of October, an Italian delegate, Emilio Coveri, made an impassioned plea for those nations which have lawful assisted suicide to allow Italian people to travel there for assisted in death.

“Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands should accept cases from other countries,” said Coveri of EXIT-Italia, Turin. “It would put pressure on the Italian government to change the laws on this.”

But Jerome Sobel, president of the Swiss-French right to die society, EXIT, in Geneva, disagreed. “If we accept dying patients from Italy, many others would come, probably one every day. As an organization we would be soon burned out. “The cases we handle within our own members are well prepared, we know the people, and that is how we handle it.”

EXIT-Swiss had helped 48 of its own members to die during 2003, he added. Sobel told the conference that he had no problem with the other right to die organization in Switzerland, DIGNITAS, helping foreigners and local people. That was within Swiss law.

Asked whether DIGNITAS could be stopped by a change in the law, Sobel said that was most unlikely. Swiss legislators had confirmed the suicide laws in recent years. But the enemies of DIGNITAS in the Zurich area were making it difficult for that organization to operate by requiring an autopsy on every case, making for a three to four week delay, and this posed difficulties for foreigners.

The definitive answer to the request for the three progressive European nations to accept euthanasia cases from other countries was given by the incoming president, Jacob Kohnstamm, of the Netherlands, an experienced politician.

Kohnstamm told the conference that laws in the European Union specifically forbade people moving within the community to take advantage of non-criminal laws in other countries. “If we in Holland accepted Italian people, for instance,” he said, “we would soon be in trouble with the EU for allowing this.” It might cost the Netherlands their own laws.

Rob Jonquiere, CEO of Right-to-Die-NL (NVVE) of The Netherlands, said that the European parliament was very much against any form of death with dignity. “If we allow any form of ‘suicide tourism’ — helping people from abroad — it would be counter-productive,” he said.