Court overturns sentence of doctor in assisted suicide case

The Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne. © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

The federal court has overturned the conviction of a former regional vice president of assisted suicide group Exit for having helped a healthy 86-year-old woman to die. The case has been sent back to the cantonal court in Geneva.

This content was published on December 9, 2021 - 16:00

In 2019, retired doctor Pierre Beck was found guilty of breaking the federal law on medicinal products and given a suspended 120-day jail sentence, after he helped a healthy 86-year-old woman who wanted to die with her ill husband. Beck provided the woman with a lethal dose of the sedative and preanesthetic pentobarbital.

On Thursday, the Federal Court in Lausanne overturned this decision. Although judges were divided about the legality and nuances of the case, a majority of three against two concluded that Beck could not be found guilty under the Federal Act on Medicinal Products, but that the case should go back to the cantonal court in Geneva and be examined under the Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, which includes pentobarbital.


Swiss law (article 115External link of the Criminal Code) criminalises cases of assisted suicide when the help is driven by “selfish motives”. However, as the RTS public broadcaster reported on Thursday, the article offers much room for interpretation.

In the initial verdict in 2019, Beck was deemed to have agreed to the woman’s request through altruism, but also a certain amount of personal conviction. It was also deemed that he should have sought the advice of other doctors before going ahead. Beck himself said he was faced with a choice between offering the woman a peaceful death alongside her husband, or running the risk of her opting for a “violent suicide”.

On Thursday, Beck repeated to RTS public television that he “carried out the act with full medical conscientiousness”.

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