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Specific regulations for organised assisted suicide in Switzerland; Swiss Federal Council acknowledges results of consultation process

Bern, 17.09.2010 - During the recent consultation process, a clear majority of cantons, political parties and interested organisations spoke out in favour of specific, federal-level regulations for organised assisted suicide. On Friday, the Federal Council instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to revise the proposed setting of duties of care for employees of assisted suicide organisations in response to the outcome of the consultation process. The FDJP will draft a Federal Council Dispatch on the matter by the end of 2010. The Federal Department of Home Affairs will present its proposals for strengthening suicide prevention and palliative care at the same time.

Present federal and cantonal control mechanisms are not tough enough. The Federal Council thus believes there is an urgent need for new guidelines and restrictions. Last autumn, the Council opened consultation proceedings on two alternative amendments to criminal law: the setting of strict duties of care for employees of assisted suicide organisations, or a complete ban on organised assisted suicide. The need for legislative action was supported by 22 cantons, 8 political parties and 54 organisations. Just 4 cantons, 5 parties and 16 organisations took the view that current legislation is sufficient to prevent abuse.

No consensus
Although a clear majority believes in the need for action at federal level, there is still no consensus about how exactly organised assisted suicide should be governed. Some 35 participants in the consultation process advocated the setting of strict duties of care (option 1), while 20 spoke out in favour of a complete ban on organised assisted suicide (option 2) and 22 called for a special law on the matter. Option 1 was criticised as too complex and opaque. Furthermore, the provision which would make organised assisted suicide the preserve of terminally ill patients was described as discriminatory and unlawful. There were also reservations with regard to the provision that would make it mandatory for three doctors to be involved in the assisted suicide, specifically to confirm the patient's legal capacity and their terminal illness, and to prescribe the anaesthetic sodium pentobarbital. Specifically, option 2 was accused of being an unlawful restriction on the right to self-determination.

Some participants in the consultation process preferred that a special law be drafted to govern the activities of assisted suicide organisations. They proposed, for example, that assisted suicide organisations be subject to licensing, or that a medical or official supervisory authority be set up. In their position papers, a large number of participants also called upon the Federal Council to lend greater support to suicide prevention and palliative medicine.

Determining duties of care
Three quarters of those who took part in the consultation process believe that legislative action is required. The Federal Council remains firm in its intention to govern organised assisted suicide expressly under the provisions of criminal law. Based on option 1, it will draft a bill for debate by the Swiss parliament. In doing so, the FDJP will engage the services of external experts, and will take into consideration the criticism voiced during consultations. The Federal Department of Home Affairs will also submit proposals to the Federal Council on how suicide prevention and palliative care can be strengthened.

Address for enquiries:

Bernardo Stadelmann, Federal Office of Justice, tel. +41 31 322 41 19

Publisher:

Federal Departement of Justice and Police
Internet: http://www.ejpd.admin.ch
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