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Legal challenge Zurich doctor fined for not reporting assisted suicide

Assisted suicide groups like Dignitas often use rented flats where patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses spend their last months before being assisted by doctors and nurses to die

(Keystone)

A doctor has been fined CHF500 ($525) by a Zurich court for not reporting a case of assisted suicide facilitated by the Dignitas group in 2014 to the cantonal police.

The 77-year-old medical professional had issued a death certificate in June 2014 for an assisted suicide case but had not reported the case to Zurich cantonal police as required in cases of “unusual” deaths. Instead, he had sent the Dignitas documents to the district physician requesting that the body be released for cremation. The district physician in turn alerted the authorities. 

As a result, the doctor was found guilty by the Pfäffikon district court and sentenced to a fine of CHF500. He appealed the decision to the Zurich cantonal court claiming that the death was a case of assisted suicide and hence there was no reason to suspect an offence had been committed. 

The Zurich court rejected the argument stating that “health professionals have a duty to report all extraordinary deaths to the police, including reported suicide cases”. 

Besides the CHF500 fine, the doctor will also have to pay procedural and legal costs amounting to CHF3,000. 

Milestone

On Monday, Swiss euthanasia organisation Exit said it had reached a milestone at the beginning of April when its 100,000th member, a 46-year-old housewife from canton Aargau, joined.   

The Zurich-based organisation, which supports the right to self-determination and is active in the German- and Italian-speaking parts of the country, said around 23,000 people had signed up as members in the past 14 months – the greatest growth in its 34-year history. 

The 46-year-old housewife and mother of two said she had attended an assisted suicide a few years ago and had found it to be a humane way to end one’s life, “saying goodbye to one’s family peacefully and with dignity”.

Right to die 

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. Assisted suicide has been allowed in the country since the 1940s. 

Death is usually induced through a lethal dose of barbiturates that has been prescribed by a doctor. Ingestion of the poison, whether by drinking it or through the use of intravenous drips or stomach tubes, must be carried out by the person wanting to die. 

A 2006 decision by the Swiss Federal Court ruled that all people of sound judgment, irrespective of whether they suffer from a mental illness, have the right to decide the manner of their death.

The government examined various options to regulate assisted suicide practices and in June 2011 decided not to seek changes in the law but to boost suicide prevention and palliative care.

Switzerland has two main groups that cater to people who seek an assisted suicide: EXIT and Dignitas.

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swissinfo.ch and agencies

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