Tuesday, 2 June 2009



Dignitas is a Swiss assisted suicide (euthanasia) group that helps those with terminal illnesses and severe physical and mental illnesses to die assisted by qualified doctors and nurses. Dignitas helps people with incurable physical illnesses such as cancer, motor neurone disease, supranuclear palsy, multiple sclerosis and quadriplegia to commit suicide. Additionally, they provide euthanasia for people with incurable mental illnesses such as manic depression and schizophrenia, provided that they are of sound judgment and submit to an in-depth medical report prepared by a psychiatrist that establishes the patient's condition as fulfilling the specifications of the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.[citation needed][dubious – discuss]

It was founded in 1998 by Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer. Swiss laws on assisted suicide clearly state that a person who assists in an assisted suicide can only be prosecuted if they are motivated by self-interest: an important legal point. As a result, Dignitas ensures that it acts as an entirely neutral party by proving that aside from non-recurring fees, they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain from the deaths of its members. This is done in the following manner: the person who wishes to die meets several Dignitas personnel, in addition to an independent doctor, for a private consultation. The independent doctor assesses the evidence provided by the patient and is met on two separate occasions, with a time gap between each of the consultations.[1] Legally admissible proof that the person wishes to die is also created, i.e. a signed affidavit, countersigned by independent witnesses. In cases where a person is physically unable to sign a document, a short video film of the person is made in which they are asked to confirm their identity, that they wish to die, and that their decision is made of their own free will, without any form of coercion. Such evidence of informed consent is entirely private and is not intended to ever be made public. The evidence is created and stored purely for use in any possible future legal dispute regarding the person who wishes to die, e.g. allegations that someone was forced to commit suicide. Finally, a few minutes before the lethal overdose is provided, the person is once again reminded that taking the overdose will surely kill them. Additionally, they are asked several times whether they want to proceed, or take some time to consider the matter further. This gives the person the opportunity to stop the process. However, if at this point the person states that they are determined to proceed, a lethal overdose is provided and ingested.


Ludwig Minelli said in one interview [3] in March 2008 that Dignitas assisted 840 people, 60% of them Germans.

Most people coming to Dignitas do not plan to die but need insurance in case their illness becomes intolerable. Of those who receive the green light, 70% never return to Dignitas [3].

[edit] Criticism

The Daily Mail of London has chronicled examples of alleged shortcomings by Dignitas. According to a January 26, 2007 article:

Paul Clifford, 40, said the family had had a ‘terrible’ experience and likened the [Dignitas] flat where his mother died to a ‘backstreet abortion place’ with graffiti-covered walls. To add to his shock, when Mrs Coombes raised concerns that her son might struggle to cope with her death, a member of staff said he, too, could die at a ‘cut price’ rate. ... ‘He wanted us to go out of the room while he checked she was dead. We had to sit on a flight of stairs which stank of urine. ‘We went back in but two police officers, the state prosecutor and two staff and a medical examiner arrived. We were asked loads of questions, with my mum still slumped there, at the same coffee table, in her wheelchair. We were there for at least two and a half hours.’[4]

Dignitas has moved to a new location in a village of Schwerzenbach [5] since the article was written.

[edit] High-costs and non-transparent finances

According to Ludwig Minelli [3], Dignitas charges its patients €4,000 (£3,182) for preparation and suicide assistance, and €7,000 (£5,568) in case of taking over family duties, including funerals, medical costs and official fees.

Despite being a non-profit organization, Dignitas has repeatedly refused to open its finances to the public [6].

[edit] Suicide tourism

As of October 2008, approximately 100 British citizens had travelled to Switzerland from the UK to die at one of Dignitas' rented apartments in Zurich.
Main article: Suicide tourism

[edit] Use of non-standard suicide methods

In a few cases in 2008, Dignitas used breathing helium gas[3] as a suicide method instead of a Nembutal overdose. However, in general, Dignitas uses the following protocol: an oral dose of an anti-emetic drug, followed approximately 30 minutes later by a lethal overdose of powdered Nembutal dissolved in a glass of water or fruit juice. If necessary, the drugs can be ingested via a drinking straw. The Nembutal overdose depresses the central nervous system, causing the person to become drowsy and fall asleep approximately 10 minutes after drinking it. Anaesthesia progresses to coma as the person's breathing becomes more shallow. Death is caused by respiratory arrest, which occurs within 30 minutes of ingesting the Nembutal.

Some people believe that hypoxic death caused by helium is less peaceful than Nembutal ingestion and causes shaking and twitching [5]. The reason for the use of helium was, according to Dignitas, a new regulation imposed by the medical authorities of Canton Zurich in Switzerland. This regulation prohibits doctors to write a prescription for Nembutal after a single consultation. Some people are so ill that they cannot travel to Zurich several times. In 2009, Dr Philip Nitschke revealed a method whereby individuals may use a better method than helium, using his euthanasia device, which used nitrogen, a more physiological gas than helium.

[edit] Allegations by Dignitas ex-employee

Soraya Wernli (a nurse employed by Dignitas for two-and-a-half years, until March 2005), accused the organisation of being a 'production line of death concerned only with profits' . Amongst other allegations of irregularities, Wernli has pressed for an official examination of Dignitas' financial records. Although approximiately £7,000 is charged for an assisted suicide and funeral, Wernli claims many wealthy and vulnerable people (e.g. Martha Hauschildt) have bequeathed vast sums to Minelli. Following the suicide of Peter Auhagen in August 2004 (which allegedly took 70 hours), Wernli resigned from her job at Dignitas and contacted the Swiss police. Dignitas denied all the allegations and pointed out that Wernli left Dignitas several years ago and cannot know how Dignitas works now. [7] Dr. Minelli said that "If the state prosecutors feel I’m making myself rich they should start legal proceedings."[8]

[edit] Other organizations in Switzerland

EXIT is another Swiss organization providing assisted suicide. In 2008, it had 50,000 members. However, EXIT strictly denies suicide assistance for people from abroad [9].

EXIT Switzerland is not affiliated with Exit International, the similarly-named voluntary euthanasia organization founded by Philip Nitschke.

[edit] Dignitas in media

In 2008, a documentary film known as "The Suicide Tourist" ("Selbstmord-Touristen" in German version) was filmed, directed by John Zaritsky[10]. The documentary depicts stories of several people who come to Switzerland to end their lives. The film was shown on the Swiss television network SF1 and is available as a web movie on the Dignitas website[11].

Right to Die? is a controversial documentary aired on Sky Real Lives about the assisted suicide of Craig Ewert, a 59-year-old retired university professor who suffered from motor neurone disease. Ewert traveled to Switzerland where he was assisted by the Dignitas NGO. The documentary shows him passing away with Mary, his wife of 37 years, at his side. Oscar-winning Canadian John Zaritsky directed and produced the film.

BBC produced a film named "A Short Stay in Switzerland" [12] telling the story of Dr Anne Turner, who made the journey to the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic, on 24 January 2006 she ended her life, the day before her 67th Birthday. The film was shown on BBC1 on 25.1.09.

[edit] References

1. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hereford/worcs/7774802.stm
2. ^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1093139/If-drink-die-What-paralysed-rugby-boy-told-took-poison-Swiss-suicide.html
3. ^ a b c d Wenn Sie das trinken, gibt es kein Zurück Tagesspiegel.de Retrieved 2008-04-12
4. ^ Swiss suicide clinic like a backstreet abortionist's Daily Mail
5. ^ a b Euthanasia group Dignitas films gas and plastic bag deaths Daily Mail
6. ^ Branching Out to Serve a Growing but Dying Market Washington Post
7. ^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1127413/Cashing-despair-Suicide-clinic-Dignitas-profit-obsessed-killing-machine-claims-ex-worker.html
8. ^ telegraph.co.uk Dignitas founder accused of profiting from assisted suicides
9. ^ Dignitas und Exit leisten Hilfe bei der Selbsttötung Deutsche Radio Schweiz
10. ^ The Suicide Tourist documentary film, imdb.com database information
11. ^ Selbstmord-Touristen documentary on Dignitas website
12. ^ Daily Mail Online: 'Anne, if you drink this you will die': Why we stood by and allowed our mother to commit suicide By Andrea Thompson

[edit] See also

* Euthanasia
* Assisted suicide
* Philip Nitschke
* Suicide
* Right to Die? a documentary

[edit] External links

* Dignitas website (In German) (some information in english)
* Dignitas: Swiss suicide helpers (BBC news article about Dignitas, Last Updated: Monday, 20 January 2003, 14:38 GMT)
* Exit home page
* DIGNITAS in Switzerland - its philosophy, the legal situation, actual problems, & possibilities for Britons who wish to end their lives A Talk given to a meeting of Friends at the End, in London
* Guide to Dignitas by Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New South Wales



Families could win right to help loved ones commit suicide at Dignitas
Families could win the right to help their loved ones commit suicide when an influential group of peers calls for a change in the law this week.

By Sarah Knapton
Published: 2:35PM BST 31 May 2009

Lord Falconer and Baroness Jay will table an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill seeking to end the situation in which relatives or friends risk up to 14 years in prison if they travel abroad with a loved one to an assisted dying

The bill is due to be debated at the House of Lords on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

The 1961 Suicide Act criminalises anyone who aids, abets, counsels or procures someone else's suicide.

It comes as hundreds of Britons suffering from terminal illnesses are on the waiting list at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas in Switzerland.

The clinic says nearly 800 people from the UK have signed up to end their own lives a tenfold increase since 2002.

More than 100 Britons, most of whom were terminally ill, have already travelled to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, to die at Dignitas.

They include Peter and Penelope Duff, 80 and 70, who were both suffering from terminal cancer when they travelled to the voluntary euthanasia clinic in Zurich in February.

Dan James, a 23-year-old rugby player, also took the option after he was left paralysed when a scrum collapsed on top of him in 2007.

After Mr James chose to end his own life his parents, Mark and Julie, who were at his side when he died there last year, found themselves under investigation by police.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions later ruled that bringing charges would not be in the "public interest" and even passed on public condolences.

When Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, attempted to clarify the law by seeking a guarantee that her husband would not be prosecuted for taking her to Switzerland, three High Court judges declined to offer the "absolute security of mind" she sought.

On Tuesday, Miss Purdy, 46, will go to the House of Lords asking it to determine whether her husband Omar Puente will be prosecuted if he helps her to travel abroad to die.

Several peers, including Labour's Lord Joffe, Falconer and Baroness Jay, Liberal Democrats Lords Lester and Taverne, and cross benchers Lord Patel and Warnock have called for the law to be changed.

So far nearly 1,000 people from across Europe and beyond have travelled there for the chance to give themselves a lethal dose of barbiturate.

Although they are left alone in a room to administer the fatal drug, the death is filmed and the footage handed to the coroner to prove they acted of their own free will.

Dignitas says 34 Britons have currently been given the 'green light' for assisted suicide with one due to end their life very soon.

Four have already secured fixed dates for their deaths, but adjourned them. The remaining 29 have not yet arranged a specific date.

Dignitas figures also show that 15 Britons took their lives there in 2003, 26 in 2006, eight in the first five months of 2008 and 23 in the past 12 months.

Ludwig Minelli, the Dignitas founder, has described assisted suicide as "a marvellous possibility".

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a new right to assisted dying, said: "There is clearly a growing demand in this country for a well regulated, legal right for people with terminal illness, who are mentally competent, to end their life if they choose to."


From Times Online
October 25, 2008
Murky truth behind Swiss suicide ‘clinic’ Dignitas

Roger Boyes in Zurich

The Swiss call it the Gold Coast, the string of silent, discreetly guarded villas fringing Lake Zurich. Bankers, tycoons and the heirs to family fortunes live here, so the lakeside is fenced off and there is only one narrow rocky strip where the public can plunge into the water.

That is where hundreds of small fragments of bone were recently washed ashore, the macabre flotsam from leaking crematorium urns. Who is dumping human ashes in the lake in such industrial quantities? Accusing fingers were, rightly or wrongly, pointed at the assisted-suicide organisation Dignitas, which claims to have helped 100 Britons to die. These include, most controversially, a 23-year-old rugby player who had been paralysed in a training accident.

The Crown Prosecution Service is deciding whether to press charges against the parents of Daniel James after it learnt that they had accompanied him to Dignitas, where he ended his life last month. The case has provoked sympathy and condemnation in almost equal measure because, unlike most previous cases, Mr James was not terminally ill. But that is not the only cause for concern about the organisation.

“I calculate that about 300 Dignitas customers have had their ashes dropped into the lake over the years,” said Soraya Wernli, who once worked in a senior position there. Police were unable to pursue an investigation because no laws were broken but the authorities did issue Dignitas with a warning that too much human ash could pollute the Gold Coast, against local regulations.

One thing is for sure: it is not how British families imagined the final resting place for their relatives. But then so little about about the workings of Dignitas matches its idealised image.

Dignitas, which says that it is a nonprofit organisation, has not published its figures since 2004. Its rationale is that it is driven by its members (6,000 have signed up, 700 from Britain) and their desire to control the nature of their death. Yet even Ludwig Minelli, its director, admits that he rules like a “benign dictator”.

There is talk, too, of a “Dignitas Clinic”, which conjures images of crisp Swiss efficiency, mountain air, a kind of peace. The reality is rather more shabby. While the organisation maintains a solid air-conditioned head office in a dormitory suburb of Zurich, the location of the assisted suicides is constantly changing. The present address is a second-floor apartment at Ifagstrasse No 12, an urban wasteland about 15 km (9 miles) from Zurich. Down the road is the Globe brothel, which is garlanded with a dozen flags representing the different nationalities of the girls inside. Near by, a Caribbean club, a Greek internet café and, next to the suicide apartment, a place where you can change your car oil.

Switzerland allows assisted suicide by a nondoctor provided that it is not done for profit. That is the most liberal ruling in Europe and its principles were set out as early as 1918: “In modern penal law suicide is not a crime . . . aiding and abetting suicide can themselves be inspired by altruistic motives.”

Even critics of Dignitas such as Andreas Brunner, the state prosecutor in Zurich, accept the principle. “But there should be tighter controls, regulating the quality of the help offered,” Mr Brunner argued. “And more transparency when it comes to individual cases, to finances and to the organisation itself.”

The real concern is not the practice of helping people to die – one Swiss organisation, Exit, has helped more than 700 Swiss citizens and has escaped most political criticism – but the tarnished image that comes with being seen as the suicide capital of Europe. Opponents call it “death tourism”.

Gerhard Fischer, of the Evangelical People’s Party, a powerful voice in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, said: “It has got out of control. I’m a farmer but I have to take a course before I so much as inject a calf, yet you don’t need anything at all to send a human to his death. It has become a business.”

Even so, the Government has resisted any major change in the law, and it is left to others to make life difficult for Dignitas. Medical supervisory boards have piled the pressure on doctors who write prescriptions for the deadly sodium pentobarbital. Three have been removed, and the present pivotal figure, Dr Alois Geiger, a gynaecologist, told The Times that he was “feeling the pressure from above”.

The law requires that a doctor see those who wish to die at least twice before they are ushered to the “death room”. Dr Geiger said that he was scrupulous about the rule. In the case of the most controversial patients, those who were not terminally ill, he said that he took particular care. “In these situations we insist on a longer interval between the first and second consultations, an interval of at least eight weeks, so we make sure that the person in question knows what he or she is doing.”

Ms Wernli, who left Dignitas in 2005 after a clash with Mr Minelli, said that it did not always work like that. “Some foreigners – Germans and English – would come to Zurich in the morning, be taken to the doctor and by mid-afternoon they were dead.”

Dignitas has denied that it is running a conveyor belt operation. Dr Geiger said: “You have to understand, before I see anyone there has been on average five months of communication. I am given the full medical history of the individual.”

It is not in the interests of a controversial organisation for people simply to vanish, prompting some form of police investigation. Many suicidal individuals are like wounded animals, ready to curl into a ball. Others want to end their lives exactly because they are socially isolated, cut off from families. For whatever reason, Dignitas has reconnected the lives of some of these people before they die.

Dignitas’s 75-year-old director is a former journalist and a lawyer, not a medical doctor. His journalistic experience is used to block off unwanted media attention – he agrees to interviews only when he feels sure that they won’t delve too deeply – but his legal skills have been vital in his weaving through the rules and staying on the right side of the law.

It was the Waste Disposal, Water and Energy Department that sent a warning to Dignitas about the human remains in Lake Zurich. And it is the local housing authorities that keep Dignitas on the run. Again and again, landlords or councillors have complained that Dignitas, which rents accommodation using the names of individuals, is transforming residential space into commercial space.

The real reason is clear: after someone has killed himself, the police are informed. The coroner and a doctor arrive, watch the video that has been shot shortly before in which the would-be suicide makes clear he is acting of his own free will. Testimony is taken. An “unnatural death” is entered on the forms. While this is going on, an ambulance, usually paid for by the family of the recently deceased, is standing outside, blue lights flashing, ready to carry the body to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Zurich in case a postmortem examination is ordered – and then to join the queue for cremation. It is the remains that are not claimed by families or friends that Dignitas is thought to be dumping.

The commotion makes the neighbours nervous and after several body-bags, complaints are lodged. Opinion polls regularly show 60 per cent or more Swiss citizens approving of assisted suicide for those with terminal diseases or with severe disabilities, but approval melts quickly if it is carried out on their doorstep.

“There are times when this charity resembles a guerrilla movement,” said a reporter who has followed Dignitas since it started in 1998. “It’s restless, constantly on the move.”

Thrown out of one apartment, searching for another, Dignitas has helped people to die in camper vans, hotel rooms and even Mr Minelli’s living room. When the organisation ran out of prescribed barbiturates, it used helium gas, a practice that has now been dropped.

There is no evidence that Mr Minelli is making a profit from the activities of Dignitas. It is a tax-free charity but it nonetheless should be having its books audited. No one in local council offices was able to explain to me why the Dignitas books are not being presented in the usual way. It seems unlikely, despite the rapid growth in Dignitas clients over the past four years, that Mr Minelli is making a fortune out of his grisly trade. The arithmetic does not add up: it has assisted in almost 900 suicides over the past decade. The most that anyone seems to pay is €7,000 (£5,500), depending on the services being offered, and after salaries, rent, legal costs and cremations are paid that seems to add up to a rather modest business. The 6,000 members – many of whom want to be put on the suicide list when their disease becomes critical – pay an entry fee of €125 and an annual €50.

Mr Minelli’s reluctance to be candid about money probably derives from his determination to be the absolute controller. “He is the secretary general, the chief executive, half of the board of directors and the accountant, all wrapped into one,” Ms Wernli said. One retired Swiss doctor who is no fan of Mr Minelli said that the organisation was almost certainly not a cash cow. “This man is not about money, it’s all about his power over life and death. He’s like the mythical ferryman of the Styx, taking people over to the other side. And what was the ferryman paid: a single coin?”

Deadly business

— Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer, founded the group in 1998

— Swiss law says that assisting suicide can only be unlawful if self-interested motivation can be proven

— It serves two main functions, to assist patients with making a “living will” and to assist patients to conduct a painless suicide

— By March 2008 Dignitas had assisted 840 suicides. It claims that more than 100 were Britons

— Dignitas charges €4,000 for assisted suicide and €7,000 when it takes over family duties including funeral costs and medical fees

Source: Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli transcripts


Well, the whole thing stinks to me. Remember, Lord Falconer is the man who decided to keep the family courts secret, in spite of being clearly shown that an American paedophile had influenced the family courts all over the UK.

As far as I can see, everywhere that man goes he leaves behind the choking smell of sulpher.

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