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“Suicide Tourism” on the Rise in Switzerland

Update Date: Aug 21, 2014 01:38 PM EDT

A new report confirmed that "suicide tourism" is indeed increasing in Switzerland. Suicide tourism is defined as people coming from other nations seeking to end their lives with the help of assisted suicide, which is not clearly regulated by law in Switzerland.

In the report, Dr. Saskia Gauthier of the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Zurich analyzed the database provided by the Institute and found that from 2008 to 2012, the number of cases of suicide tourism has doubled. There were a total of 611 tourists from 31 nations between the ages of 23 and 97 who traveled to Switzerland in order to end their lives. Almost 60 percent of them were women. All but four of the patients sought out assisted suicide services from the well-known Diginitas clinic.

"While assisted suicide is strictly restricted in many countries, it is not clearly regulated by law in Switzerland. This imbalance leads to an influx of people-'suicide tourists'-coming to Switzerland," Gauthier wrote according to CNBC.

Gauthier reported that the leading cause of suicide was neurological disease, which affected 47 percent of the cases. The second leading cause at 37 percent was cancer, followed by rheumatic and cardiovascular disease. Roughly one-third of the patients had suffered from more than one condition.

The majority of the patients came from Germany and Britain. During this time frame, 268 Germans and 126 Britons died from assisted suicide. However, the number of tourists from Italy grew the most from just four in 2009 to 22 in 2012. The number from France increased as well from seven to 19 from 2009 to 2012.

"It's clearly unethical to force dying Britons to travel abroad to die through a lack of safeguarded choice in this country," Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying stated according to BBC News. "But there is also a patient safety issue. We have no control over the law in Switzerland, but we can and should regulate and safeguard assisted dying in this country."

In Switzerland, there are six right-to-die organizations with four of them providing services to international people. Under Swiss law, assisted suicides are legal if the person conducting it does not benefit from the suicide. The majority of the cases used sodium pentobarbital.

"The phenomenon of suicide tourism unique to Switzerland can indeed result in amendment or supplementary guidelines to existing regulations in foreign countries, as shown by our examples of the top three countries from which suicide tourists travelled. Political debate in Switzerland and other countries is continuing, with the possibility of further amendments in the near future, in both Switzerland and elsewhere, unless Switzerland issues clear and structured regulations on suicide tourism," the authors wrote reported by the Times of India.

The report, "Suicide tourism: a pilot study on the Swiss phenomenon," was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. An accompanying commentary, "Suicide tourism may change attitudes to assisted suicide, but not through the courts," was also published in the same journal.

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