Did Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas go too far?

8th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

8 November 2007, Geneva/Zurich (dpa) - The Swiss Dignitas organization has long been controversial for its assisted suicides and the legal grey area that practice inhabits. However, a report on Swiss television on the assisted suicide of two Germans at a car park in the woodlands near Zurich has caused a fresh storm of protest. The two men, aged 50 and 65 years and from the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerrtemberg across the Swiss border, took their lives in a car in a parking lot in the to

8 November 2007

Geneva/Zurich (dpa) - The Swiss Dignitas organization has long been controversial for its assisted suicides and the legal grey area that practice inhabits.

However, a report on Swiss television on the assisted suicide of two Germans at a car park in the woodlands near Zurich has caused a fresh storm of protest.

The two men, aged 50 and 65 years and from the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerrtemberg across the Swiss border, took their lives in a car in a parking lot in the town of Maur, east of the city of Zurich.

Active euthanasia is banned in Switzerland. However, under Swiss law a terminally ill person wanting to die can be offered a poison, which they then take voluntarily.

The mayor of the 9,000-strong community of Maur, Bruno Sauter, has called the car deaths "impious and distasteful."

It is not the first time Sauter has encountered assisted suicide. Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, 75, lives in his district and Minelli is said to have earlier permitted a German woman to die in her car in front of his house, Blick newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"Now Dignitas has gone too far," a Swiss legislator said on the radio, while also announcing new initiatives against "dying tourism." Minelli issued a statement rejecting the accusations.

Even undertaker Urs Gerber, who is otherwise prepared to admit that one has to "put up with a lot" in his line of business, criticizes the car park death. He speaks of "undignified surrounding conditions," for instance when he has to pull the bodies out of the car and stretch them out on the ground.

Many think it likely that Minelli wanted to cause provocation. After all, Dignitas has constantly been in the headlines over the past weeks because more and more communities in the Zurich area had been refusing to give their permission for the so-called dying rooms in rented apartments.

This is where the Dignitas boss used to take his clients to receive their deadly poisoned cocktail. The clients have to take the cocktail themselves, fully aware of what they're doing.

Many residential areas have seen protests because there was a constant stream of ambulances and hearses, so Dignitas finally moved into industrial estates. However, there were protests there too.

Then the organization began to use hotels, only to find their owners appeal to Minelli to leave them alone.

So now it's a car park in the woodlands.

Sauter wants to prevent another incident like this with the help of his watchful citizens. However, public prosecutor Juerg Vollenweider doesn't see a chance to stop such a public suicide.

"Those who want to die outdoors or in their beloved car are free to do so," he says. The law is clear on that and Minelli knows that too.

However, there are also dissenting voices. Supporters of euthanasia say euthanasia organizations can help people to die in dignity who would otherwise not be able to do so.

"It is part of a self-determined life to have a self-determined death in dignity as well," Urs Lauffer, a legislator from Zurich, says.

The numerous local parliamentary initiatives to prevent the practice from getting out of hand could soon be followed by an initiative in the chambers of the national parliament.

Critics want organizations like Dignitas to be licensed, and they demand "quality standards" and stricter supervision of their activities.

Those who demand better controls are backed by reports that people willing to die were left to suffer for a long time because the natrium pentobarbital that was administered had not worked properly. Some 15 grams of the strong soporific are dissolved in water.

Minelli fundamentally rejected any such accusations in a letter to the Neue Zuercher Zeitung daily in one of his rare public statements.

However, he admitted that there were a few incidents - "maybe one in several hundred" - in which it took a long time for someone to die. But there was no apparent reason for it.

The paper wrote that experts found this hard to understand. Hans Muralt, branch manager of the euthanasia organization Exit in Zurich, told the paper that he was not aware of anyone having suffered during his long time in the office.

DPA

Subject: German news

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