The various forms of euthanasia and their position in law

Direct, active euthanasia

Deliberate killing in order to shorten the suffering of another person. The doctor or a third party deliberately administers an injection to the patient which results directly in their death.

At present, this form of euthanasia is punishable under Article 111 (murder), Article 114 (mercy killing on request) or Article 113 (manslaughter) of the Swiss Penal Code.

Indirect, active euthanasia

Defined as the use of means to relieve suffering (e.g. morphine) which may have the secondary effect of shortening life. The possibility that death might occur earlier than it would otherwise have done is taken into account.

While not covered explicitly by the penal code, this type of euthanasia is generally regarded as permissible. This perspective is also reflected in the euthanasia guidelines of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS guidelines).

Passive euthanasia

The renunciation or discontinuation of life-prolonging measures. (Example: A life-support machine is switched off.)

There are no specific legal provisions governing this form of euthanasia, either, although it is regarded as permitted. The SAMS guidelines also define passive euthanasia in the same terms.

Assisted suicide

According to Article 115 of the Swiss Penal Code, only a person motivated by self-serving ends who helps another to commit suicide (e.g. by obtaining a lethal substance) will be punished by imprisonment for up to five years, or by pecuniary penalty.

Assisted suicide involves enabling the patient to obtain the lethal substance, which the person wishing to commit suicide then takes themselves without any external assistance.

Organizations such as EXIT offer assisted suicide within the framework of the law. Provided they cannot be accused of having any self-serving motive they are not punishable.

Palliative medical treatment and care

Palliative medicine and care describes not only medical treatment and physical care, but also psychological, social and pastoral support to the patient and their family.

It can significantly increase the quality of life of the seriously and terminally ill and thus also avoid a situation in which they express the wish to die.

Last modification 30.01.2023

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