A review of the third dialogue event

"Assisted suicide: practices, values and regulations”. This was the title under which researchers presented the initial findings of three projects from the NRP “End of life” on 4 July. Over 150 experts from public offices, research, politics and real-world practice joined in the discussions at the event in Berne.

​From an international perspective, Switzerland pursues a tolerant policy towards assisted suicide. Although assisted suicide is a factor in a small proportion of deaths in Switzerland, it has increased significantly in recent years. The third dialogue event organised by the Swiss National Science Foundation focused on the initial findings of three research projects that looked at issues relating to assisted suicide.

In her project, Christine Bartsch, a doctor specialising in forensic medicine and external lecturer at the University of Zurich, used official documents to analyse and statistically evaluate trends in assisted suicide over the last 30 years, in other words since the first euthanasia organisations were founded. She found that existing guidelines for assessing powers of judgement have not been fully implemented. She is therefore recommending the drafting and implementation of standards for assessing powers of judgement.

Bernhard Rütsche, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Lucerne, posed the following question in his talk: "Do we need new rules for organised assisted suicide?" After in-depth analysis, he came to the conclusion that although there were several good reasons for state regulation, such regulation must be limited to procedural rules and the implementation of these rules. Moreover, if new regulations were to be drawn up, they should be proportionate and practicable.

“Is assisted suicide a self-determinable right?” was the title of the talk given by Peter Schaber, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Zurich. Based on the two questions “Is it permissible to help someone end their life?” and “Should we help someone to end their life?” he demonstrated that there could be good reasons for helping people to end their life.

After the presentation, the findings were commented on from a real-world perspective by Dr Marion Schafroth, Member of the Board of Directors of the assisted suicide organisation Exit, Professor Christian Kind, President of the Central Ethics Committee at the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS) and National Councillor Bea Heim, member of the National Council Social Security and Health Committee. These three experts stressed that the studies provided valuable leads for real-world application. At the same time, they criticised some of the researchers’ recommendations. A lively discussion then ensued, during which also controversial points of view were put forward. Many questions were ultimately left unresolved. Professor Arnaud Perrier, Medical Director of the University Hospital of Geneva and member of the NRP 67 steering committee, offered some conciliatory words at the end of the event. He highlighted the fact that none of the three research projects relating to assisted suicide had called assisted suicide itself into question. He took this as a sign that society’s views on assisted suicide have changed considerably and moved on in recent years.