Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli said he plans to test the legality of helping a healthy person end their life alongside their terminally-ill partner.The head of the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland declared that he believed assisted suicide should be available ‘on demand’.
Minelli, whose organisation has supervised the deaths of 100 Britons, said suicide was not just for those already dying but ‘a marvellous possibility given to a human being’.
The human rights lawyer said there were no limits on who might be assisted to die, as long as they had the mental capacity to make the choice [ed. then what about coma or ‘PVS’ patients? If they cannot make the “choice”, why are some promoting their killing? This is not logical or consistent.]
‘It is without conditions,’ he said. ‘A human right is without any conditions except capacity.’ [ed.Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should…Every freedom has a responsibility.]
Minelli dismissed concerns that assisted suicide should be reserved for the terminally ill as ‘a British obsession’ and called on Britain to legalise suicide. He told BBC Radio 4 that the UK could even save money by allowing suicide. [ed. human life is less valuable than money, apparently]
‘For every 50 suicide attempts we have one suicide and the others are failing, with huge costs for the National Health Service,’ he said.
‘In many many cases they are terribly hurt afterwards, sometimes you have to put them in institutions for 50 years, very costly.’ [ed. that’s why health care should be improved at the front end, to help them deal with their problems before they become despondent.]
But, despite his claim that mental capacity was a key factor in allowing death at Dignitas, Minelli said the organisation had assisted the death of those with mental health problems.
The admission that Dignitas is willing to kill those who are not already dying was immediately condemned by groups that have in the past supported it.
The Dignitas suicide clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, Dignity in Dying, which has campaigned for the right of British families to take terminally ill relatives to the clinic in Zurich, said: ‘We need to prevent the needless prosecution of friends or relatives who accompany a loved one to Dignitas.
‘But at the same time we need to send out a clear signal that assisting non-terminally ill adults to die is wrong.’
Anti-euthanasia campaigners said Minelli’s willingness to kill anyone who requested it bore out fears that legalising assisted suicide for the dying rapidly leads to euthanasia for anyone.
Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life said: ‘This is exactly what we have been predicting all along. Before long you will be able to get rid of anyone who is a nuisance.’
There was also criticism of the BBC for allowing Minelli airtime on the Today Programme without any balancing material from critics of assisted suicide.
The flagship news show heard from the journalist who interviewed Minelli for Radio 4’s The Report. Simon Cox suggested that doubts over the Swiss clinic were an argument for liberalising the law on assisted suicide in Britain.
Paralysed rugby player Daniel James, 23, committed suicide at the Dignitas clinic in September last year.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: ‘The BBC is under an obligation to balance its coverage, and it is breathtaking that on this issue of life and death importance it has not bothered to find anyone to put the case against killing.’
Swiss police are investigating Dignitas over claims from a former assistant that Minelli had taken large donations beyond the standard £7,000 fee from those he helps to die, including one of £;120,000.
Soraya Wernli also alleges that Minelli collects the possessions of the dead, including jewelery and money, and sells them.
In Switzerland, those who assist a suicide need only a psychiatrist’s report that says that the subject has the mental capacity to decide whether he or she wishes to die.
There are no further legal sanctions and Swiss law remains vague, drawing no clear distinction between suicides of the terminally ill and others.
Minelli told the BBC that his organisation now hoped to get a court ruling to definitively state if it legally assist the suicide of a healthy woman whose partner is terminally ill.
He added: ‘I have a totally different attitude to suicide. Suicide is a very good possibility to escape a situation which you can’t alter.
‘It is not a condition to have a terminal illness. Terminal illness is a British obsession. ‘As a human rights lawyer I am opposed to the idea of paternalism. We do not make decisions for other people.’
Dignitas is thought to have assisted the deaths of around 1,000 people, usually with lethal cocktails of drugs.
Robert and Jennifer Stokes from Leighton Buzzard were in their 50s when they went to Dignitas to die in 2003. The couple had a history of mental illness and failed suicide attempts and both suffered from chronic illnesses.
The Stokes case is among those complained of by former Dignitas nurse Wernli, who said Minelli dismissed concerns over their deaths by saying that depression was an ‘irreversible illness’.
Assisting a suicide can bring a penalty of 14 years in jail in Britain, but no one has yet been prosecuted for helping a family member die at Dignitas.
In January Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC effectively gave the go ahead for people to take relatives to die in Zurich, saying the tolerance extended to Daniel James’s parents was a sign of how British authorities would act in future.
[http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1166620/Suicide-demand-healthy-Its-marvellous-possibility-says-Dignitas-boss.html, Steve Doughty