By Hilary White

LONDON, April 6, 2009 ( – The founder of the Swiss euthanasia group “Dignitas,” Ludwig Minelli, said in a recent interview that he is seeking permission from the courts in Switzerland to assist the suicide of a perfectly healthy woman. The woman is the wife of an unnamed and ill Canadian man who may seek suicide at the Dignitas facility; she has said that if her husband commits suicide, then she would want to commit suicide at the same time, though she is suffering from no illness.

Minelli told BBC Radio 4 that everyone has a right to kill themselves, whether they are healthy or sick, and that there should be no legal restrictions whatever on physician assisted suicide.  He called assisted suicide a “marvellous, marvellous possibility for a human being.”

“It’s a right, a human right, without condition except capacity of discernment.”

Minelli, who has argued that assisted suicide should be legally available for people with severe depression, said, “Suicide is a very good possibility to escape a situation which you can’t alter.

“It is not a condition [for suicide] to have a terminal illness. Terminal illness is a British obsession.”

He stressed that his facility is not a “clinic.” “As a human rights lawyer I am opposed to the idea of paternalism. We do not make decisions for other people.”

Minelli also emphasised the cost-benefit aspect of suicide, saying that the health system saves the costs of protracted health care with every successful suicide.

“For 50 suicide attempts you have one suicide and the others are failing with heavy costs on the National Health Service,” he said. “If we would have another attitude to suicide, saying suicide is a very good possibility to escape. In many, many cases they are terribly hurt afterwards sometimes you have to put them in institutions for 50 years. Very costly.”

Minelli has relied upon the courts to erode the laws of Switzerland against physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. He referred to one case in which he hopes to stretch the law in Switzerland even further: “There is a couple living in Canada, the husband is ill, his partner is not ill but she told us … ‘if my husband goes, I would go at the same time with him’ … We will now probably go to the courts in order to clear this question.”

The interview was aired at a time when the UK’s Parliament is under pressure to relax the legal prohibitions against assisted suicide and euthanasia. Under the 1961 Suicide Act it is illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another” and the penalty can be up to 14 years in prison. This law covers helping someone go abroad for suicide.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, has indicated that no charges will be pursued against those who have travelled with friends or relatives to Switzerland to assist in their suicide at the Dignitas facility.

Several attempts to legalise assisted suicide in Britain have been rejected, most recently in 2006. The 2006 bill was defeated in the House of Lords by 148 votes to 100. The pressure continues, however, and last month former health secretary Patricia Hewitt tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that would protect from prosecution those Britons who take their loved ones abroad to be assisted in their suicide by Dignitas. While Parliamentary insiders did not believe the motion had a chance of success, Hewitt said her amendment was only “reinforcing the current prosecution policy.”

Albert Mohler, an author and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented that Minelli seems to be using the global economic crisis to “push the agenda of the Culture of Death.”

“The logic is clear,” he said. “We would be better off if certain people were dead.”

“The Culture of Death usually disguises itself better than this,” Mohler said. “Here the ugliness and brutality—the utter Godlessness of such proposals are here for all to see.  Worldviews matter.  Indeed, worldviews are a matter of life and death.”

Read related coverage:

Swiss Euthanasia Group Demands Assisted Suicide for the Depressed