Zurich voters asked to ban 'death tourism'

15th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Voters in the Swiss region of Zurich, which has become a hub for controversial "death tourism" from abroad, will decide in a referendum on Sunday whether to restrict assisted suicide to local residents.

The motion brought by the conservative Federal Democratic Union party seeks to impose a one-year residence requirement in canton Zurich for those who resort to legally sanctioned assisted suicide.

A locally based association, Dignitas, has gained notoriety over the past decade by offering more than 1,000 foreigners, mainly terminally ill people, the opportunity to take advantage of relatively permissive Swiss laws.

In Switzerland, a person may be given "passive" assistance to suicide, such as being supplied with a lethal dose of a drug, provided it is not done for selfish motives or for gain.

Active assistance, including helping the person to take the drug or administering it, is forbidden.

Dignitas and its founder Ludwig Minelli told a British group this month that they had assisted 164 Britons over 13 years.

By the end of 2010, it had assisted a total of 1,138 people including at least 592 from Germany, 102 from France, 118 Swiss, 19 Italian, 18 from the US and 16 from Spain, according to Dignitas's own figures.

Apart from sparking ethical debates in Britain, France and Germany, where laws are more restrictive, its controversial practices have met with opposition locally.

Dignitas has been forced to move out of residential flats or offices in towns and villages where it successively set up shop, following repeated legal challenges by local authorities or residents.

In 2007, neighbours in Zurich expressed growing alarm at the number of coffins in their street, while a hotel manager threatened legal action after the group helped a man end his life in one of his rooms.

Two German men were also helped to their deaths in a van in a rural lay-by.

Dignitas says it accompanies people who are terminally ill or suffer from an "unendurable disability" to a dignified and painless end of life, in cooperation with doctors who draw up the prescription needed to buy the life-ending barbiturate.

Another Swiss group, Exit, offers passive assistance for suicide, but has refused to help foreign visitors.

In a separate motion in Sunday's referendum, voters in Zurich are also being asked whether they want their regional parliament to press for federal law to be overturned and outlaw assisted suicide.

© 2011 AFP

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