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End-of-life decisions


Exit members vote to broaden assisted suicide services


Exit is one of two assisted suicide organisations operating in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal (Keystone)

Exit is one of two assisted suicide organisations operating in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal

(Keystone)

The members of Exit, one of the two Swiss organisations offering assisted suicide services, have decided to explore offering those services to non-terminally ill elderly individuals.

That decision was anchored into Exit’s statues during the organisation’s General Assembly on Saturday in Zurich. Exit now defines assisted suicide as “the right to the freely responsible death of a very old person wishing to die”. Those very advanced in age will no longer have to prove to the same extent as younger people that they are terminally ill in order to receive services.

Previously, all individuals seeking assisted suicide with Exit’s help had to undergo a series of consultations with physicians to prove their illness was terminal. Members voted to have those requirements become less stringent for the very elderly who wish to die.

Exit said in a press conference on Saturday that the details of the extended services still needed to be worked out. A special support group will be formed to discuss and formulate the specific commitment, which will likely include building awareness for the rights of the elderly among the public. The changes to Exit's practices will not be made immediately and will likely take a significant amount of time to come into force, the group said, citing anticipated political discussion and a possible need for legislative changes.

The issue of so-called "old-age assisted suicide" has come to the forefront as awareness of end-of-life options has grown, Exit said in a press release.

Contrary to the Swiss organisation Dignitas, which also helps foreigners end their lives, Exit only offers its services to Swiss permanent residents and citizens. It assists patients with living wills and personal directives, as well as end-of-life care including assisted suicide through the ingestion of the lethal drug sodium pentobarbital.

Exit has existed for more than 30 years and is funded by more than 73,000 members who pay regular membership fees for its services. A majority of the 700 members gathered at the 2014 General Assembly voted to extend assisted suicide services to non-terminally ill elderly patients. According to Exit, that reflected the highest attendance at a General Assembly in 20 years.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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