Dignitas, an organization that helps people who suffer from fatal illnesses commit suicide, is rather active in Zurich, Switzerland. Dignitas rents an apartment in the center of the city, where clients come to take a lethal doze of barbiturates and die listening to their favorite music. Dignitas director Ludwig Minelli says: “People who come to us are very much like those who jumped out of the WTC windows on September 11. They want to avoid terrible headaches and suffering. We think that it is humane to help them.” However, this opinion isn’t universally supported. Dignitas is strictly criticized in Switzerland and abroad; very soon, the Swiss parliament will consider the question of Dignitas. Some people blame Dignitas for luring people to Switzerland who would never venture to commit suicide. Member of the Swiss parliament Dorl Wallender says: “Tourists arrive at noon, and they are already dead by the evening. We don’t want the world to see this and made their conclusions about our country and our legal system.” Minelli, in his turn, says such fears are exaggerated, as the company doesn’t invite foreigners, but the employees believe it would be unethical to say no to them. Last week, Wallender suggested that the Swiss parliament should toughen laws on assisting people in committing suicide and prohibit foreigners from participating in the procedure.
Dignitas is universally criticized; however, nobody can blame it for breaking the law. The Swiss laws on assisted suicide are among the most liberal in the world. Doctors have the right to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to patients if the patient voluntarily decides to commit suicide and can take the medicine on his own. Unlike in Holland and Belgium, euthanasia, when doctors inject lethal doses medicines, is prohibited in Switzerland.
As it turned out recently, Dignitas helped several mentally diseased people die, which quite naturally caused hails of protests. Thomas Schlapfer, a doctor from the University of Berne, says: “Depressed people can’t make decisions independently. Suicidal ideas often occur to people with serious mental problems. They see that Dignitas can help them commit suicide. It’s unethical to help people commit suicide.”
However, Minelli adds that mental pain is sometimes as torturous as pains of the body. Many chronic mental diseases can’t be cured. The majority of such diseased people are conscious for rather long periods, and they can make decisions independently.
Euthanasia is a problem that humanity has been pondering for many years already, whether it is humane or not. People who practice religion stick to the definite answer that God never sends ordeals that can’t be stood.
Metropolitan Antony Surozhsky, who has closely studied the problem of death and dying, gives examples of agonies of incurable patients that have often brought them happiness and spiritual purification.
It certain that everyone has the right to independent decisions. People in the West are shocked when their relatives decide to commit suicide with the help of institutions like Dignitas. A housewife from Bremen came to Zurich last year with her mother; she says that, although it is said that the procedure is rather cold and medical, the atmosphere there is “pleasantly sad.” Her mother, who suffered from cancer “never thought that her decision to die in the center wasn't right.” And the woman is grateful to the doctors of Dignitas for the chance to die that they gave her mother.
None of the relatives of citizens who have used Dignitas' services have filed suits against the organization yet. Some people in Switzerland say that Dignitas’ activity may help stimulate the development of a so-called “industry of death." New organizations helping people commit suicide are appearing in Zurich. However, there are apprehensions that if the situation continues to develop like this, Switzerland may be soon called the country of suicide.
However, Minelli considers his activity to be of a humane nature. “I’m a doctor, and it’s painful for me to see these people suffer.” If the law isn’t changed, which is currently highly unlikely, the mercy mission of Minelli will continue.
Yelena Kiseleva PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://culture.pravda.ru/culture/2002/4/67/189/1427_dignitas.html
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