January 8, 2010

PAMELA DUNCAN

SIX PEOPLE from Ireland have taken their lives at a Swiss-based assisted suicide service since its foundation, according to figures released by the organisation.

A document posted on the Dignitas website indicates one Irish person died through what the association terms “accompanied suicide” at the clinic in 2009.

This brings to a total of six the number of people domiciled in Ireland who have taken their own lives with the assistance of Dignitas since it was founded in 1998.

According to the document, one Irish person carried out an assisted suicide in 2003 and 2004; another three did so in 2005.

Up to May 2009, 29 Irish people had registered as members of Dignitas according to the organisation, which charges a joining fee and an annual membership fee.

Between 1998 and 2009 a total of 1,041 accompanied suicides were carried out at the Dignitas facility, which is based in Forch, near Zurich. A total of 89 assisted suicides were carried out there in 2009.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since the 1940s as long as it is performed by an individual who is not a physician and has no vested interest in the death.

“Accompanied suicide always takes place under the guidance of experienced Dignitas escorts, preferably in the presence of next-of-kin and friends of the member, in the frame of the law of Switzerland, and follows a certain preparation and a procedure which allows a painless and risk-free self-determined end of life,” a spokesman for Dignitas said.

The organisation’s literature says a person must be of sound judgment and possess a minimum level of physical mobility sufficient to self-administer a drug with which they end their own life.

The Swiss government is currently examining legislation in a move which may see organised assisted suicide restricted or banned in the country. “We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” Swiss justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has said.

The issue of assisted suicide was the cause of major debate in Britain last year as a result of the case of Debbie Purdy, who won a landmark court case to have the law on assisted suicide clarified.

Ms Purdy was seeking clarification as to the circumstances in which her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her travel abroad to die. Following the case guidelines governing whether those who help terminally ill loved ones to die should be prosecuted were published in the UK.

Although suicide ceased to be a crime in the Republic in 1993, the law states that the act of suicide must be achieved without assistance. According to gardaí a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another could be arrested and imprisoned for up to 14 years, even if the suicide occurs abroad

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