“Suicide is a Human Right”: Dignitas Suicide Doctor

By Hilary White

SCHWERZENBACH, Switzerland, October 27, 2008 ( – According to a Swiss physician, suicide “is a human right” that must be accommodated by allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of sedatives, so that patients do not have to resort to more “brutal” methods. Alois Geiger wrote in the Times on Friday that he is one of three doctors who prescribe drugs to people who come to the legal “suicide clinic” Dignitas in Schwerzenbach, Switzerland (See:

In his piece, entitled “Why I prescribe drugs for suicide,” Geiger wrote that lethal doses of sedatives allow a person “to end his life in a pain-free way, free of brutality, and moreover to do so not alone but accompanied by people standing lovingly at his side.”

Geiger said that objections to doctors prescribing suicide drugs comes from an attachment to the ancient Hippocratic Oath that was once routinely taken by physicians. The Oath, dating to the 4th century BC, was largely abandoned by the medical profession in recent times because it includes a prohibition against abortion. Similarly, those who take the Oath swear, “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.”

Geiger said the Oath is “largely out of date” because it forbids abortion and the removal of “bladderstones.”“Nowadays,” he wrote, “an effective and safe drug can end a pregnancy in the early weeks without a problem. The excision of bladderstones is not immoral and the same can be said for a socially approved termination of pregnancy administered by a doctor.”

“When it comes to prescribing medication to a patient to help end his life, I view the Hippocratic oath in a similar way,” Geiger wrote.

But the actual experience of the death of a loved one at the Dignitas facility is far from the candle-lit fantasy of the euthanasia proponents.

The Dignitas facility, usually described in the media as a “clinic,” brings clients to an anonymous apartment where the drugs or other methods of killing are administered and the whole operation is filmed. The video of the death is then sent to the Swiss Crown Prosecutors to prove that the death was within the law.

Dignitas was evicted from its rented flat in Zurich last year after complaints from other tenants. Gloria Sonny, a neighbour in the building told the Daily Telegraph at the time, “We call it the ‘House of Horrors’.”

In 2007, Paul Clifford, a man from South London whose mother, Maxine Coombes, committed suicide at the Dignitas facility, described the family’s experience as “terrible” and likened the flat where his mother died to a “backstreet abortion place.” Mr. Clifford, describing his experience to the Daily Mail newspaper, said, “I wanted to take the drink [lethal dose] off her and chuck it on the floor but that would have been selfish.”

Coombes, he said, took a lethal dose of barbiturates just 15 minutes after entering the room after a Dignitas staffer, “Arthur,” recorded her answers to questions that would absolve the organisation of legal blame: “You know what you are doing, don’t you? Nobody’s pressuring you to drink this drink, are they? You know if you drink this drink you are going to die?”

After his mother’s death, Clifford said he had to go out of the room and “sit on a flight of stairs which stank of urine” while the staffer checked that she was dead. Later, the state prosecutor and a medical examiner arrived and asked the family “loads of questions,” while Coombes remained slumped in her wheelchair. When Clifford was allowed to spend a few minutes with his mother’s corpse, the body had been left on a bench “going blue”, and covered in a “dirty blanket like half a curtain, with “her clothes chucked on the floor.”

Dignitas founder, Ludwig Minelli, said in an interview in March 2008 that Dignitas has assisted 840 people to commit suicide.

Geiger blames the monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity, for the prohibition against suicide. But, he writes, “what if there is no God?” Suicide should be an option, he argues, for those who do not believe.

“[C]an there not be arguments for deciding the end of one’s life: a life of suffering perhaps, or one blighted by increasing isolation, or the dependency on outside care?”

The Daily Mail reported earlier this year that the Dignitas facility was pioneering new suicide methods apart from drugs. In March, the Mail said that a helium-filled plastic bag is put over a client’s head until he suffocates. Juerg Vollenweider, deputy head of the Zurich Oberland Crown Prosecution, confirmed that Dignitas used the new method for the first time on February 18.

See: Why I prescribe drugs for suicide, by Dignitas doctor

Read related coverage:

Swiss Lure Suicide Victims: Euthanasia Administered Within 24 Hours

Neighbors Complain Swiss Euthanasia ‘Clinic’ Parade of Dead Bodies Disturbing

Mentally Ill have a Right to Assisted Suicide ~ Swiss High Court

Swiss Euthanasia Group Reopens "Clinic" Next to Country’s Largest Brothel

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