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Death tourism tops Swiss word list

Package tours: increasing numbers of foreigners have been coming to Switzerland to die

(Reuters)

"Sterbetourismus" (death tourism) has been selected from over 2,000 suggestions as Word of the Year in German-speaking Switzerland.

The issue of people travelling to Switzerland to die was frequently discussed during 2007 - not only in the Swiss media but also in Swiss bars, explained the jury of journalists on Thursday.

They pointed out that the global spotlight had only turned to Switzerland's liberal laws on assisted suicide when the number of foreign "patients" increased.

Most Swiss support assisted suicide – in which the terminally ill have to carry out the final act themselves – but they are divided over whether the laws should apply to foreigners.

Several groups offer suicide assistance in Switzerland but only Dignitas accepts non-Swiss residents. Since its creation in 1998 the controversial association has helped more than 800 people – ten per cent of whom are British – end their lives in exchange for about SFr10,000 ($8,800).

Last year Dignitas helped more than 200 people, but in summer it lost the lease on a Zurich flat it had used for eight years. Locals had taken exception to seeing people going up to the third-floor in the lift and coming down hours later in a body bag.

Having been barred from using hotel rooms by the Association of Zurich Hoteliers, Dignitas hit the headlines again in November for shifting its operations to car parks.

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has dismissed calls by the Zurich authorities for a nationwide law aimed at curbing death tourism, saying existing regulations are sufficient.

National reflection

Other "important" words included "Taschenmunition", ammunition that each Swiss soldier must keep at home.

Army issue weapons are involved in the deaths of more than 300 people a year in Switzerland – most recently a 16-year-old girl was killed in a random shooting by a soldier who had completed his basic training only hours beforehand.

The jury said the word reflected a country that clearly still felt threatened and repeatedly felt the need to show off its ability to defend itself.

They said Taschenmunition was in stark contrast to another runner-up, the more welcoming "Host City", referring to the four Swiss cities that will be opening their arms and pubs during Euro 2008, which Switzerland is co-hosting.

On the one hand they said the term reminded people that England had failed to qualify, but on the other they criticised a supposedly welcoming term for sounding so scientific and technical.

Unword of the Year

"Unword" of the Year 2007, which is awarded for a term considered "crassly inappropriate", was Klimakompensation (climate compensation). This means for example sitting on a plane with a clear conscience in the knowledge that you have chipped in to a tree-planting project somewhere in the world.

In the jury's eyes, the term highlights the perplexity of the arguments concerning climate change, the topic of the day.

Climate compensation, they said, presents itself as a win-win-win solution, but it is in fact a sham: consumers don't have to alter their behaviour and can keep a clear conscience, the economy doesn't take a hit and no one can say nothing is being done. It's only the climate that's a loser...

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Word of the Year started in Germany in 1977, Austria in 1999 and German-speaking Switzerland in 2003. Swiss Germans account for about two-thirds of the Swiss population.

The competition involves the public submitting words online which, for them, reflect the past year.

A jury of seven journalists from German-speaking Switzerland and Liechtenstein then chooses its Word of the Year and half a dozen other "important words".

end of infobox

In brief

Word of the Year:
Sterbetourismus (death tourism)

"Important words":

Problembär (problem bear) – swissinfo predicted last year that Problemwolf could be a word of 2007, but we underestimated the emotions generated by a couple of brown bears that appeared in eastern Switzerland – irritation on the part of farmers and borderline hysteria on the part of everyone else.

H-Plan – refers to an alleged plan/conspiracy involving a jailed banker, Oskar Holenweger, to oust Justice Minister Christoph Blocher.

Randgruppenmanagement (fringe group management) – often appears in documents dealing with security in public places. The jury expects this term to become a regular in politicians' speeches.

Taschenmunition (ammunition)

Host City

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Assisted suicide

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when the patient commits the act and the helper has no direct interest.

There are several organisations in Switzerland, such as Exit and Dignitas, which help terminally ill patients choose how to die.

Every fifth suicide in Switzerland, where the suicide rate is significantly higher than the global average, is assisted – in Zurich the figure is one in three.

Euthanasia, illegal in Switzerland, is defined as administering a lethal drug to a person by a doctor or medical staff. Assisted suicide – in which patients have to carry out the final act themselves – is legal.

Switzerland, the American state of Oregon, Belgium and the Netherlands are the only jurisdictions permitting assisted suicide in certain cases.

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