Ban on human ash disposal reinforced

Nothing can be charged for scattering ashes outside of cemeteries in canton Zurich Keystone

Switzerland's highest court reinforced a ban prohibiting assisted suicide organisation Dignitas from spreading clients’ ashes outside of cemeteries in canton Zurich.

The discovery of 67 cremation urns in Lake Zurich made international headlines seven years ago. Divers from the lake rescue service came upon them in a spot near a Dignitas clinic.

The canton outlawed the professional disposal of human remains five years after the discovery. Dignitas fought the order, arguing that it represented an unfair restriction of trade.

Both the Administrative Court and now the Supreme Court have sided with the canton. The Supreme Court dismissed Dignitas' complaint,  saying the ban does not violate constitutional law and it also is justified for police and security reasons.

A former Dignitas employee told Swiss news media that it once was common for the organisation to dump urns in the lake and estimated that as many as 300 might have been deposited there. Dignitas denied the claims, and Zurich prosecutors dropped a criminal probe after it could not prove who put the urns in the lake.

Local authorities then took action through the ban on the commercial disposal of ashes or urns anywhere outside of a cemetery. It remains lawful to spread the ashes of loved ones in favourite spots in canton Zurich as long as no money changes hands. 

The Federal Statistical Office reports that in 2014 there were 742 cases of assisted suicide in Switzerland, up 26% from the previous year and two and a half times as many as five years previously. In the latest statistics, assisted suicide accounted for 1.2% of all deaths in Switzerland in 2014.

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