“Suicide tourism” in Switzerland exerts a morbid fascination on the media. The assisted suicide group Dignitas, which opened in 1998, is rarely out of the news, especially in Britain (here are some of the latest stories on Google). In a rare interview last March, its founder Ludwig Minelli said it had helped 840 people to die to date, 60% of them Germans.
Another “right to die” group, Exit, gets less attention abroad because it only deals with Swiss citizens. But it seems to be just as active, if not more so. Founded in 1982, it says it gets 150-180 requests for assisted suicide annually.
There have been several polls showing general public support for these groups — the latest one says 61 percent of the Swiss approve of assisted suicide. But until recently, there has not been any serious study of the people who seek these groups out. Are there patterns in the types of people or their reasons for ending their lives this way?
A new study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) has examined 229 official written requests for assisted suicide in Zurich in a search for any significant patterns. Most findings of the study, presented at a European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics (EACME) conference that ended at the weekend in Prague, are not surprising. The candidates cited reasons such as wanting to end suffering or avoiding being a burden on their families. No single motivation stood out as the most frequent.
But there was one statistic that did. Women made up 61.9% of the candidates for assisted suicide considered in the study (64.4% over the total in Zurich from 2001 to 2004) and men only 38.1% of those studied (or 35.6% of the overall total).