A pilot study in the Journal of Medical Ethics has found that the number of so-called “suicide tourists” coming to Switzerland for assisted suicide services doubled between 2008 and 2012. During that time period, 611 foreigners committed assisted suicide with the help of Swiss organisations.
Of those, 268 came from Germany, 126 from Britain, 66 from France, 44 from Italy and 21 from the United States, the study said. Overall, foreigners seeking assisted suicide in Switzerland between 2008 and 2012 stemmed from 31 countries.
The pilot study set out to determine the age, gender and country of origin of people who travelled from other countries to Switzerland to seek assisted suicide services, as well as what diseases they were suffering from, using the databases at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Legal Medicine. It also sought to examine what effects suicide tourism may have on changes to existing regulations in foreign countries.
The study found that those seeking assisted suicide between 2008 and 2012 were between 23 and 97 years old, with an average age of 69. In 47% of cases, they were suffering from a neurological disease, while 37% had cancer. Twenty-eight per cent said they were seeking assisted suicide because they suffered from more than one disease.
Most died by ingesting sodium pentobarbital, while four inhaled a lethal dose of helium, the study found.
Although they did not state that suicide tourism is solely responsible for proposed changes to Germany’s assisted suicide law, for example, the study authors did say that countries with higher numbers of suicide tourists to Switzerland are also those having increased conversations about their own laws regarding assisted suicide.
Criticism from assisted suicide groups
Five Swiss assisted suicide groups sharply criticised the study, stating it did not look at an appropriate period of time.
“Had the authors chosen the more representative period of 2006 to 2012, they would have found a constant number of cases. In 2006, Dignitas accompanied 195 [assisted suicide patients], and 198 in 2012,” a joint statement from the groups pointed out.
In addition, the groups took issue with the term “suicide tourists” as used in the study, finding the authors’ tone cynical with regard to “suffering patients”.