Photo: Lee Yiu Tung/Shutterstock

Morbid Medical Tourism?

by Julie Schwietert May 30, 2009
Oh, Switzerland! Long a destination for chocolate lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the country’s latest development may unwittingly attract an unanticipated type of tourist: the kind who doesn’t plan to go back home.

“800 Britons on waiting list for Swiss suicide clinic.”

That’s one of the top headlines of the May 31 online edition of The Guardian.

According to the article by health reporter Denis Campbell, a record number of British citizens have signed themselves up for euthanasia services at the controversial Dignitas Clinic just outside Zurich.

A 2002 article in TIME Magazine explained that Dignitas “rents an apartment in the city where clients self-administer a fatal dose of barbiturates and slowly fade away while listening to their favorite music.” Euthanasia has been legal in Switzerland since 1960, attracting an increasing number of foreigners to the Swiss capital to end their lives in a manner that would be illegal in their home countries.

Of the 800 Brits who have become members of Dignitas, 34–all of whom are terminally ill– have been screened and given the “provisional green light” to schedule their own deaths. That green light is given by a Swiss doctor and Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, who review members’ medical records and conduct interviews to determine that those signed up to die are of sound mind when making that decision.

The increasing number of people traveling to Switzerland seeking Dignitas’ services has implications far beyond Switzerland’s own borders and beyond the lives–and deaths–of those who choose to die. At present, for instance, British citizens who travel with a family member seeking euthanasia are subject to a 14 year prison sentence upon their return, a law that will be reviewed by Britain’s high court this week.

While right-to-die advocates praise Dignitas for opening its doors and providing services to citizens whose own countries will not permit them to end their suffering, opponents raise strong arguments against Dignitas becoming an international destination for people with terminal illnesses who want to end their own lives. The organization has become a focal point in the international debate about euthanasia.

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