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Doctor cleared over assisted suicide

A former Neuchâtel cantonal head doctor has been acquitted in what campaigners are calling an important case over assisted suicide.

A regional criminal court in Boudry ruled that the doctor had no choice when she took the final step to end the life of a terminally ill patient.

Direct active euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland but assisted suicide and passive euthanasia (mercy killing) is not.

In this case, the medic had started a lethal drip for a patient who was suffering from an incurable degenerative condition. As the patient – who had expressed a wish to die – was not able to perform the act herself, the doctor relied on a movement of the patient’s foot as a signal.

The court ruled that as there was no doubt about the patient’s wishes, the doctor in this case had a medical and moral duty to break the law. It also pointed to the Federal Court in Lausanne which has already ruled on a similar situation.

Assisted suicide organisation Exit called the verdict a “small sensation” which sent a clear signal at a time when the government is considering new guidelines and restrictions on assisted suicide.

A recent study by Zurich University found that most Swiss were in favour of assisted suicide and would also support direct active euthanasia. However, two-thirds of respondents came out against the practice of “death tourism”, where foreigners come to Switzerland to end their lives.

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SWI swissinfo.ch - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR