Assisted suicide: strengthening the right of self-determination; The Federal Council continues to support suicide prevention and palliative care
Berne, 29.06.2011 - On Wednesday, the Federal Council decided against introducing specific provisions in criminal law on organised assisted suicide. It concluded that such an amendment to criminal law would have various drawbacks. However, the government is still intent on fostering suicide prevention and palliative care in order to reduce the number of suicides. The entire package of measures should contribute to strengthening the right of self-determination.
In response to the outcome of the consultation process, the Federal Council instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) on 17 September 2010 to revise the proposed definition of due diligence for employees of assisted suicide organisations. Today, the Federal Council concluded that such a revision would only specify in detail the obligations which already arise from the prevailing law (Article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code and Article 119 of the Military Criminal Code); to render assisted suicide admissible, the current legal provisions already require the person seeking suicide to have the mental capacity to consent and to be sufficiently well informed. Moreover, the term "selfish motives" referred to in the abovementioned legislation already renders criminal prosecution possible in cases of assisted suicide abuse.
Indeed, revising current legislation could have various drawbacks. One such argument is that it could officially legitimise assisted suicide organisations, which could provide people with an incentive to take up their services. Furthermore, a change in legislation would not be well accepted particularly by doctors whose professional body during the consultation process came out against making medical practice out of assisted suicide. Instead, the medical association argued that the prescription of lethal substances should remain the personal responsibility of the individual doctor.
After reviewing the situation once again, the Federal Council is convinced that misuse of the system - such as the assisted suicide of people who do not have the mental capacity to consent, the dispensing of pentobarbital sodium without a doctor's prescription or the illegal storage thereof - can be tackled under the current legal provisions. The current criminal law provisions, the Therapeutic Products Act, the Narcotics Act and conduct rules together provide the authorities with a suitable set of tools for imposing effective criminal, administrative or civil law sanctions. Moreover, these tools have the advantage of being flexible and practice-oriented as well as constituting a sensible balance between the State's responsibility to protect the individual and to respect personal freedom.
Improving self-determination at the end of life
The Federal Council continues to give priority to preventing suicide. The number of annual suicides, which has remained constant in Switzerland for several years, is expected to increase in the future as the population ages. For this reason the Federal Council wishes to continue to support the prevention of suicide, palliative care, and the care and treatment of people with terminal, life-threatening and chronic illnesses. The focus is on improving self-determination at the end of life. To this end, the public should be made aware of the alternatives to suicide.
The Federal Council has instructed the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) to review the extension of the National Strategy for Palliative Care, which is due to expire at the end of 2012. The FDHA will also continue to support the cantons in launching a programme called Bündnis gegen Depression ("Anti-depression Alliance") for the early diagnosis and optimal treatment of depression. Finally, the FDHA will establish an interdepartmental working group whose task will be to propose measures for improving the compatibility of work and care of terminally ill dependants (for example, granting leave from work to care for sick relatives or care vouchers).
Address for enquiries
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Last modification 24.04.2023