In May 2022, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS) published guidelines on assisted suicide. Called Management of Dying and Death, the guidelines were first drafted in 2018 and then amended in 2021 due to the heated debate that has developed on this issue. “In the review process, the subcommittee held expert hearings, noted the findings of the National End-of-Life Research Program (NRP 67) and drew on a study commissioned by SAMS itself on Swiss physicians’ attitudes toward assisted suicide.”
Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since the 1940s, provided that people commit the final act themselves and their caregivers have no interest in their death. Today, assisted suicides account for about 1.5 percent of the 67,000 deaths recorded on average each year.
The new guidelines envisage that “assisted suicide for healthy people is not medically and ethically justifiable.” Instead, those who want to end their lives would have to prove that their suffering is “unbearable” and that “other options were unsuccessful or rejected […] as unreasonable.”
From a practical standpoint, before making the final decision, patients should have at least two meetings with a physician, at least two weeks apart, for “thorough discussions” that can ensure that their wishes are “well thought out and lasting.”
Although the new guidelines are not legally binding, they will be part of the code of ethics to which Swiss doctors must adhere in the future.
This is evidently an attempt to curb the wave witnessed in Switzerland in connection with “death escort” programs, as recounted by the episodes just a few months ago of two women from the USA who came to Basel to end their lives thanks to the “[…] Pegasos Swiss Association, which, unlike Dignitas and Exit International, the two largest “assisted suicide” organizations in the country, accept applications for assisted voluntary death even from people who are not terminally ill.”
Needless to say, as reported by the Swissinfo.ch, an online information website, expressing their dissent “in a joint statement, leading Swiss assisted suicide organizations said the guidelines are legally impermissible and would make it more difficult to provide help to those who want to end their lives.”
“Jean-Jacques Bise, co-chair of the Exit Suisse group,” the Swissinfo website continues, “told public radio station RTS that the new rules are not practical, particularly the requirement to have two interviews with a doctor in advance, which he said would be difficult to enforce in urgent cases.”
There is no doubt that Monsieur Bise is against the new guidelines. He is probably mostly fearful of the idea that in future, his organization may not pocket the nearly $10,000 that the two American women paid to Pegasos to die in February.