Self-determined death? Assisted suicide and autonomy


In the debate on assisted suicide, a person’s right to determine how and when he or she dies is widely recognised. However, there is a dispute concerning the conditions under which a person’s decision to end his or her life with another person’s assistance can be considered autonomous.

Project description (completed research project)

Throughout the intensive debate on more restrictive regulation of assisted suicide in Switzerland, the right to autonomy was considered highly important by all sides. However, it became clear that there is a great lack of clarity and disagreement regarding the conditions that a person must fulfil for the decision for assisted suicide to be viewed as autonomous. For example, both advocates and opponents of more restrictive regulation gave autonomy as the reason for their positions.


This study will clarify what conditions proposed in the debate can sensibly be brought in relation to autonomy and how these conditions can be specified. When examining the philosophical, legal, psycho-logical and public debates, the research team will test two working hypotheses: (1) An exacting definition of autonomy that would justify restrictions on assisted suicide cannot be defended in a liberal context, and (2) Some of the proposed conditions can be traced back to other values that differ from autonomy, such as welfare, protection of life or human dignity. For this reason, they should not be considered in the determination of the conditions for autonomy.


Clarification of the conditions for autonomy is not only indispensable for academic debates but also for policy and public discussion on the regulation of assisted suicide. By determining a definition of autonomy, the study opens up an important perspective on the current debate: if restrictions cannot be justified based on autonomy (for example, for healthy persons with a death wish), what importance should be placed on the principle of respect for autonomy? On the issue of regulation of assisted suicide, should values other than autonomy, such as welfare, protection of life or human dignity, be taken into stronger consideration?

Original title

Working and supporting a dying relative: reconciling employment and palliative care in 'end of life' situations

Project leader

  • Prof. Peter Schaber, Arbeits- und Forschungsstelle für Ethik der Universität Zürich

Institutionelle Zusammenarbeit

  • Universitärer Forschungsschwerpunkt Ethik der Universität Zürich
  • Institut für Biomedizinische Ethik der Universität Zürich
  • Kompetenzzentrum Medizin - Ethik - Recht Helvetiae der Universität Zürich
  • Rechtswissenschaftliches Institut der Universität Luzern



Further information on this content


Prof. Dr. Peter Schaber Arbeits- und Forschungsstelle für Ethik der Universität Zürich Zollikerstrasse 117 8008 Zürich +41 44 634 85 26

Products of the project