GENEVA – The Swiss government proposed Wednesday to restrict or even ban assisted suicide groups such as Dignitas in a bid to cut down on 'suicide tourism.'
Scores of foreigners travel to Switzerland every year to end their lives with the help of such groups, taking advantage of the Alpine nation's comparatively liberal laws on assisted suicide.
"As a country, we aren't interested in attracting suicide tourism," Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.
Under the government's preferred option, groups would have to follow strict guidelines or risk prosecution, she told reporters in the capital, Bern.
The new rules would require groups to exhaustively document their contact with patients.
Patients also would have to obtain two medical opinions proving their illness is incurable and likely fatal within months, and that they are capable of making an informed decision to end their lives.
"It won't be possible in future for someone to cross the border and commit suicide a few days later with the help of an organization because a minimum amount of time will be required," said Widmer-Schlumpf.
She didn't specify how long the waiting period would be, saying this would depend on the individual case, but added: "We want to prevent that someone decides to die on Monday and receives the assistance to do so on Friday."
Dignitas, the best-known of Switzerland's four assisted suicide groups, called the proposals "outdated and "patronizing."
"By cutting off assisted suicide for chronically or psychologically ill people who are capable of informed choice the government will promote lonely suicides on train tracks, from high bridges and by other inhumane methods," said Dignitas founder Ludwig A. Minelli.
According to official statistics, some 1,360 people committed suicide in Switzerland in 2007. Of the 400 who turned to assisted suicide groups for help, 132 came from abroad.
Past efforts to restrict the work of assisted suicide groups on a state level resulted in some organizations offering patients helium-filled plastic bags.
Widmer-Schlumpf said only physician-prescribed medication would be permissible under the government proposal.
Groups also would have to prove they aren't making a profit, she said, indicating that the government believes some have taken Switzerland's lax rules too far and are operating a business.
The government has opened the proposal for public comment until March 1, after which it will send a draft law to parliament.
A second proposal, also being considered, would ban organized assisted suicide completely. Widmer-Schlumpf said this would be the easier option, but likely force the practice underground.
Opinion polls regularly show broad support among Swiss voters for the current law on assisted suicide.