The Swiss assisted suicide organisation EXIT helped a total of 1,204 people end their lives in 2018 – a sizeable jump compared to the previous year.
EXIT Deutsche Schweizexternal link, which covers German-speaking Switzerland and canton Ticino, reported on Tuesday that 905 people had used its services last year to terminate their lives – 172 more than in 2017, a 23% increase.
At the end of 2018, membership of the organisation stood at 120,117 – also a big jump on previous numbers (+13,000).
Of the deceased, 57% were women, with an average age of 78. The most common reason for wanting to die was terminal cancer (344 cases), followed by age-related health problems and chronic pain disorders.
The EXIT branch covering French-speaking Switzerland helped 299 people end their lives in 2018 (13 more cases than in 2017), co-president Jean-Jacques Bose told Keystone SDA. The number of new members rose by 2,681 to 28,762 at the end of last year.
Law and rules
Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. Assisted suicide has been legal in the country since the 1940s.
Switzerland has two main groups that cater to people who seek an assisted suicide: EXIT and Dignitas. While Dignitas will also assist people from abroad, EXIT, Switzerland's biggest organisation, will only support a citizen or permanent resident of Switzerland in taking their own life.
Members must fulfil certain criteria to use the organisations’ services when they decide the time is right to end their life. EXIT and Dignitas will only provide their services to people with a terminal illness, those living with extreme pain or “unbearable” symptoms, or with an unendurable disability.
The person who wishes to die must also know what they are doing, not be acting on impulse, have a persistent wish to die, not be under the influence of any third party, and commit suicide by their own hand.
Death is usually induced through a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by a doctor. Ingestion of the poison, whether by drinking it or through the use of intravenous drips or stomach tubes, must be carried out by the person wanting to die.
A 2006 decision by the Swiss Federal Court ruled that all people of sound judgment, irrespective of whether they suffer from a mental illness, have the right to decide the manner of their death.
The government examined various options to regulate assisted suicide practices and in June 2011 decided not to seek changes in the law but to boost suicide prevention and palliative care.