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Switzerland voters oppose ban on assisted suicide

Sunday May 22 2011

By CHEGE MBITIRU [email protected]

Voters in Zurich, Switzerland, a week on Sunday gave a boost to what its advocates call a human right.

That’s a person’s right to decide why, when, how and where to die.

The BBC reported 85 per cent of the 278,000 votes cast opposed a ban against assisted suicide, legal since 1941 for terminally ill persons. Conditions apply.

Only a non-physician with no stake in the death can assist. The assistance must be passive, such as providing drugs.

Helping to administer the product is out. According to local authorities, about 200 people commit assisted suicide in Zurich annually, many of them foreigners.

The foreigners though aren’t very welcome. Seventy-eight per cent of the voters said so. The government leans that way. It is considering tightening the law to discourage what’s called “suicide tourism”.

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Arrive today and die tomorrow to escape non-terminal illnesses like paralysis below the waist. “Suicide tourism” takes place because other than Switzerland few authorities permit assisted suicide.

They are Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and the states of Oregon, Washington and Montana in the United States.

Laws governing suicide and prevailing thinking about it, especially in countries whose legal systems have roots in Greek, Roman and Judeo-Christian legal and intellectual traditions, have two threads in common.

They stigmatise the suicidal as unworthy and totally disregard personal autonomy. To Aristotle, committing suicide was immoral and robbed the state of one’s civic and economic contributions, therefore, an offence.

Modern laws, especially since the Industrial Revolution, have roots here. Society has a claim to an individual until death.

Plato argued people are property of the gods. Stick around until the gods decide otherwise. Christianity fits in this category, sacredness of all life, including vegetative one plus sinfulness of committing or attempting to commit suicide.

Between the times of the Greek thinkers and now, philosophers, theologians, ethicists, lawyers, politicians, atheists, doctors, psychiatrists, sociologists et al have argued about suicide.
However, other than abolition in some countries of laws criminalising suicide — Who’s there to punish? — there has been precious little movement from the days of Aristotle and Plato.

Ironically, like the Medieval Church, psychiatrists and sociologists have put some sense in the whole debate. They recognise reasons exist why people, including some of sound mind, simply wish to say “Goodbye world!”

Some of these reasons can be dealt with. Hence counselling. Others can’t. Included is a determination, intuitively, to live a la Roman Stoic Seneca’s saying: “Mere living is not a good, but living well.”

A vegetative life is hardly living well. The Swiss law provides an exit from the absence of “living well.” Therefore, it shouldn’t be changed but liberalised further.

If anything, all nations should follow. Indeed, all should let those who wish to say “Goodbye world!” do. Societies and nations they form demand individuals make the best of life.

It’s illogical, therefore, for the same societies and nations to prevent one from asking a simple question. “Whose life is it, anyway?” A terminally ill Canadian Sue Rodrgigues did and damned the law.

In the presence of a legislator, a doctor assisted her commit suicide. Voila! The judiciary folded the tail.