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Women more likely to receive help than men

The barbiturate Pentobarbital is used in Switzerland for assisted suicide. Keystone

A Swiss study has found that more women than men resort to assisted suicide. Those people who end their lives this way generally live alone, are divorced or well-educated. The assisted suicide group Exit has criticised the findings.

The study’s results, which were released on Wednesday, showed that the proportion of women dying from assisted suicide was higher than men – 740 compared with 561 between 2003 and 2008.

People living alone and those who are divorced are also more likely to seek assisted suicide than married and socially integrated individuals. Younger adults with children seek out suicide assistance less frequently than childless people, but having children does not influence decisions made by older individuals.

“The results indicate that there could well be vulnerable groups,” said Matthias Egger from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern who led the study backed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. “Social isolation and loneliness are known to be risk factors for suicide, and this might also be the case for assisted suicide.”


In 1,093 of the 1,301 cases of assisted suicide, the researchers got additional information from patients’ death certificates. In almost half of these cases the people concerned had been suffering from cancer. The proportion suffering from incurable degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was also high.

The study analysed data from cases of assisted suicide concerning Swiss residents, provided by right-to-die organisations Exit Deutsche Schweiz, Exit Suisse Romande and Dignitas to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. This information was later compared with data from the Swiss National Cohort study of the Swiss population.

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 in 2012 parliament rejected a motion requesting tighter rules.

One in five Swiss suicides is an assisted suicide, mainly facilitated by two organisations – Dignitas and Exit.

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when the act is committed by the patient and the helper has no direct interest.

Assisted suicide figures were included by the Federal Statistics Office in the national suicide rate from 1999 (63 cases) to 2008 (297 cases).


The assisted suicide organisation Exit dismissed the results, saying they only confirmed what had been known for many years in other countries.

Exit also rejected the study’s conclusion that better-educated, wealthy people from residential areas were more likely to seek help in dying. It criticised as well the idea that some groups may be ‘vulnerable’ or need protection.

At the end of January, organisations which legally offer assisted suicide in Switzerland contacted the Federal Administrative Court demanding more information about the Swiss National Science Foundation End of life research programme, which has been running since 2012. The study published on Wednesday was not part of this programme.

They claim the CHF15 million ($16 million) programme is “unscientific”, “biased” and “full of Catholic morality” and that the head of the programme should be replaced.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR