'Suicide Tourism' Spreads

'Suicide Tourism' Spreads'Suicide Tourism' Spreads

More than 600 non-Swiss residents died of assisted suicide in Switzerland between 2008 and 2012. In 2012 alone, the majority came from Germany (77), followed by the UK (29), Italy (22), France (19) and the US (7).

A study by the Journal of Medical Ethics, which looked at data from Zurich University, found a 40% increase among those seeking to end their lives over the four-year period. 

According to researcher Dr Saskia Gauthier, Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Zurich, an imbalance in national regulations has led to an influx of “suicide tourists” coming to Switzerland, mainly to Zurich, located in northeast of the country.

Why Switzerland

Swiss law does not require a physician to be involved; nor the recipient to be a Swiss national. These legal aspects are unique in the world.

Focusing only on foreign suicides, in which the average age was 69, the study noted that out of the 611 cases cited, 268 originated from Germany and 126 from the UK. The next-largest number came from France, followed by Italy, from where cases increased by 11 times during the period. 

The main reasons for assisted suicide (AS) were neurological disease, followed by cancer, rheumatic and cardiovascular diseases, the report said. According to the Federal Office of Statistics, Swiss residents constituted 508 suicides in 2012; 60% of them were women. 

The Swiss study was prompted by debate in places such as the UK, Germany and Denmark. Gautier believes that the unique phenomenon of 'suicide tourism' in Switzerland may indeed result in the amendment or supplementary guidelines to existing regulations in other countries. 

Passive AS has been legal in Switzerland since 1942. However, the individual has to be of sound mind, while those helping must not be motivated by self-interest or financial gain. Active euthanasia remains illegal, but lethal drugs may be prescribed as long as the recipient takes an active role. According to the study, most patients died by ingesting sodium pentobarbital, while four inhaled helium.


A 2011 referendum called by pro-life opponents of AS in Zurich was overwhelmingly rejected by 85% of voters and the initiative to outlaw it for foreigners was turned down by 78%. But Swiss law remains unclear. 

Exit International, a leading organization advocating AS, has agreed to assist people over the age of 75 who are not terminally ill. Exit was founded by Dr Philip Nitschke in 1997, after the over-turning of the world’s first Voluntary Euthanasia law – the Rights of the Terminally Ill (ROTI) Act.

Dr Nitschke became the first doctor to administer a legal, lethal, voluntary injection to four patients.  Philip’s medical registration was suspended on political grounds by the Medical Board of Australia in July 2014. This is currently under appeal.

Britain’s 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence – up to 14 years in prison in England and Wales – to assist or encourage suicide. In 2010 the UK Commission on Assisted Dying, also known as the Falconer Commission, pushed for a new regulatory law, while Scotland put forward its own bill last November. 

In Germany, where euthanasia is illegal, Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a nationwide discussion. The German Medical Association, however, wants to prohibit both euthanasia and AS.