Suicide organisations criticise public research

For the first time in 30 years assisted suicide organisations gather around the same table to inform the press about their view on a publicly funded research programme Keystone

The five organisations which legally offer assisted suicide in Switzerland have criticised a government-commissioned research programme led by a Catholic theologian, saying the project is too biased.

This content was published on April 25, 2013 - 17:30 and agencies

Exit Romandie, Exit Deutsche Schweiz, Dignitas, Ex International und Lifecircle demand the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) readjust the national research programme end of life NRP 67. They claim the CHF15 million ($16 million) programme is “unscientific”, “biased” and “full of Catholic morality”.

The science foundation firmly rejects the charges. The scientific quality of the project is sound, according to spokesman Ori Schipper. The foundation had been aware of the charges since December 2012 and had offered to discuss the issue with the organisations but they had declined, he added.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland on condition that patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. The right to die is consistently backed by a majority of the population, and last year parliament rejected a motion requesting tighter rules.

In 2012, the end-of-life programme started its studies. The assisted suicide organisations claim that it carries the thumbprint of its president, theologian Markus Zimmermann-Acklin. Brigitte Tag, a jurist from the University of Zurich, who in the past has expressed her unfavourable views on euthanasia, also sits on the executive committee, they criticise.

"Those two people are unsuitable for this task,” said Ludwig Minelli, the head of Dignitas. He said that the research he had inspected looked as if it was “controlled by [controversial Catholic institution] Opus Dei”.

Influenced by ideology?

The SNSF was aware that Zimmermann-Acklin has his own opinion, but Schipper said this did not affect the evaluation, and that ideology was not an issue either for the design of the programme or the choice of projects.

The organisations, on the other hand, are convinced that the research project is a sham, to bring the subject back on the political agenda. They have cancelled their cooperation for the time being.

“We really made an honest effort, but at some point you just give up,” said Bernhard Sutter, vice-president of Exit Deutsche Schweiz, at a press conference in Zurich.

Sutter said already the starting point of the programme was teeming with moral and theological views. “This is not open and unbiased research,“ Sutter said. He claims the scientists are instead looking for ways to ban assisted suicide.

According to the science foundation’s website, End of Life NRP 67 aims to make the last phase of life more humane. It encompasses 30 individual projects, including research on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Assisted suicide organisation have more than 100,000 members. Every year they assist 550-600 people in dying, many of them from abroad.

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