By Hilary White

  ZURICH, February 2, 2007 ( – The Swiss Supreme Court has issued a decision saying that chronically depressed and mentally ill people have a “right” to assisted suicide.

  The Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas, had filed a suit in which it claimed a man suffering from a mental illness was refused a prescription for the barbiturate Sodium Pentobarbital to use to kill himself. The suit claimed a right to suicide for the mentally ill under the European Convention of Human Rights.

  Dignitas’ media release quotes the Court: “The right of self-determination in the sense of article 8 § 1 ECHR includes the right to decide on the way and the point in time of ending ones own life; providing the affected person is able to form his/her will freely and act thereafter.”

  The court urged “utmost restraint” in these decisions, noting it is difficult to determine if the desire for death is a function of the illness calling for treatment, or the result of a “self-determined, carefully considered and lasting decision of a lucid person (‘balance suicide’) which possibly needs to be respected.”

  Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, is appalled by the decision.

“The Swiss have now opened the door to a free-fall into the abyss of the culture of death,” he said. “The end of this free-fall is the societal pressure and culture that demands an obligation to die for the weakest members of society who are seen as lacking the quality of life or too stupid to recognize that their life is not worth living.”

  He said the movement and the Court’s decision is based on a principle of radical personal autonomy that holds that “someone not only has a right to commit suicide but the state has the obligation to assist that suicide, if the person wishes.”

  Schadenberg warns that the court’s decision will end with an obligation to die by the old and ill without “safeguards or concerns for people with disabilities. The only caveat is that the person must be able to ‘form his or her will freely and act thereafter’.”

  The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Soraya Wernli, a long-time associate of Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, who confirms that not all those seeking death from the Dignitas facility were terminally ill.

  Wernli said that clients were also killed on the same day as their assesment. Clients would come in the morning for an assesment that they were of sound mind, “and by 4pm they would be dead. It was against my morality. In that time, how can you be sure they really wanted to die?”

  Wernli said she ended her association with Minelli after more than 30 years. “I could not accept what he was doing. He was not interested in their diagnosis, just their money,” she said.

  Using two Zurich apartments, Dignitas was involved in 192 assisted suicides last year charging €3500 each.

  Read coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald: