The euthanasia organisation Exit has experienced a surge in membership in German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland. Last year, 13,413 people joined – a record number. Figures for the French-speaking part are expected in April.
The number of actual assisted suicides went up as well: there were 583 in 2014, a 25% increase on 2013. The average age of the deceased was 77.5, reported Exit on Wednesday. Last year, Exit heard from about 2,500 people thinking about killing themselves – and looked into 900 of those cases.
According to Exit, the most common reasons for wanting to die are terminal cancer, age-related diseases and chronic pain disorders. Most assisted suicides took place in the cantons of Zurich (210), Bern (86), Aargau (49), St Gallen (38), Basel Country (29) and Basel City (25).
In 2013, 8,000 people joined Exit. This year, some 5,000 have already signed up – bringing total membership to more than 86,000 people.
Exit attributes the strong growth in part to the large media interest in recent years. It also cites the increasing and aging population, as well as the rise in dementia diagnoses. “A continually self-determined generation is heading into old age,” stated Exit.
It says most members join at around the age of 50 – and the average age is about 65. Three-fifths of Exit’s members are women. Members must be residents of Switzerland.
Right to decide
Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. Assisted suicide has been allowed in the country since the 1940s.
Death is usually induced through a lethal dose of barbiturates that has been 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.
Switzerland has two main groups which cater to people who seek an assisted suicide, Exit and Dignitas.
Although men are much more likely to commit suicide, representing three-quarters of Switzerland’s 1,400 cases annually, women are in the majority in assisted suicide.