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Controversial case Bern prisoner requests assisted suicide

View of prison walls and barbed wire in Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Authorities and the assisted suicide organisation Exit say many things must be clarified before the unusual case can proceed.

(Keystone)

A 64-year-old prisoner in canton Bern wants to end his life with the aid of Swiss assisted suicide organisation Exit. His unusual request has raised many questions, both with Exit and the justice authorities.

Exit informed the detainee that his request would be taken seriously, but his case involves special circumstances that must be clarified. The assisted suicide organisation has declined to comment further, as it cannot give details on an individual case.

However, Pierre Beck, vice president of Exit in French-speaking Switzerland, told Swiss Public Radio, RTS on Saturday that a seriously ill detainee in Geneva's Champ-Dollon prison had made a similar request about a year ago. "We were not able to enter into the matter," Beck said. 

In the request to Exit, the detainee wrote that his life was not worth living for three reasons: he suffers from an incurable lung disease that will worsen, he has been diagnosed with a serious and incurable mental illness, and the canton of Bern has refused to allow him to go on accompanied outings for several years, disregarding a decision by the Bern Supreme Court. The prisoner has likened this refusal to “psychological torture” that deprives him of all “prospects of the future”.

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The demand was made public by the organisation for prisoners and marginalised individuals, Reform91. Its president, Peter Zimmermann, spoke to the Swiss News Agency, ATS with the prisoner’s agreement.

The Office of Judicial Enforcement of canton Bern said that it has received no formal request specifically regarding assisted suicide. The office’s deputy head, Laszlo Polgar, said that Swiss law does not yet regulate cases where detainees wish to resort to assisted suicide. He said that the current zero-risk policy has increased the length of prison stays, and that the laws must take this into account in the future. However, he added that it would certainly not be possible for a detainee to escape his or her sentence through assisted suicide.

SDA-ATS/cl

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