Swiss parliament rejects tighter controls on assisted suicide

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s parliament voted against a bid to toughen controls on assisted suicide on Wednesday, rejecting concerns about foreigners travelling to the country to die.

The Swiss Parliament building is seen trough raindrops on a glass roof on the Swiss Federal square in Bern September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Members of the lower house of parliament voted against changing the code, arguing self-regulation by right-to-die organizations such as Exit and Dignitas worked and the liberal rules protected individual freedoms.

“One should regulate oversight of assisted suicide organizations. These organizations work as companies, run advertisements for members and want payment for their work,” said Christian Democrat Ida Glanzmann-Hunkeler, one of the few MPs who wanted a change.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since 1941 if aided by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death. Assisted suicide is also legal in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. Euthanasia is permitted only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.

“The ability to determine what happens with our lives in our final months is considered very important in Switzerland,” said Susanne Leutenegger-Oberholzer, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), the second-biggest party in the lower house.

“Ethical questions are of primary importance here. Lawmakers can’t do much good here,” she said.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said reform was not necessary as the number of foreigners travelling to Switzerland to die had declined in recent years, from 199 in 2006 to 97 in 2010. Most come from Germany, France or Britain.

“It’s about the question of dignity at the end of one’s life. In the end each person can only decide on this dignity for him or herself. It’s about questions of self-determination,” she said.

The vote in parliament mirrors a referendum in Zurich last year when voters rejected overwhelmingly proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism”.

The number of Swiss residents who died by assisted suicide rose sevenfold between 1998 and 2009, according to official statistics, with almost 300 Swiss residents dying this way in 2009, compared to 43 in 1998.

Cancer was cited as the decisive factor in almost half of cases, while neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases also figured among the underlying causes. Depression accounted for only 3 percent of assisted deaths.

(This version of the story corrects references to U.S. states in paragraph 4.)

Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Janet Lawrence