Ludwig Minelli, the head of Dignitas, is 77, and says it is a human right to decide on one’s own death. A trained lawyer, he founded the assisted suicide organisation 12 years ago. The organisation, whose slogan is ‘”live with dignity, die with dignity”, has helped over 1,000 people to die.
Many of them are people who have traveled to Switzerland because assisted suicide is not permitted in their own countries.
Dignitas has the status of an association under Swiss law, with two active members, Mr Minelli and one other. The identity of the other member has not been revealed. These two active members control the policy and financing of Dignitas.
Question: You have been described as a man on a mission, a man on a crusade…
I wouldn’t say a crusade but I am persuaded that we have to struggle in order to implement the last human right in our societies. And the last human right is the right to make a decision on one’s own end, and the possibility to have this end without risk and without pain.
I think this capacity to make an end of life decision should also apply to a healthy person, so the British discussion about terminally ill persons is completely obsolete.
Question: Many people would say though that if there are to be organisations which organise assisted suicide that there should be some rules around how they function.
Well there are rules but there are no state laws. We have our own rules and the first rule is that we never precipitate an assisted suicide. Every step must be initiated by the member and not by us. And the third rule is that we are always first looking whether we will be able to help someone to continue with life rather than to end life.
Question: What about the structure of your organisation, the media has reported that it’s not very transparent, particularly the accounting?
Well this is a private association, only the active members of the association have a right to know the facts, the public has no right at all, we are not working with public money, we are working with the money of our members, so there is no reason to answer questions from third parties.
Question: But actually the Zurich public prosecutor wants you to make your accounting more public.
Well the Zurich public prosecutor is not reasonable, for years. No this man is not worth to discuss with, or to discuss his ideas. His main idea is to reduce our capacity to receive members from abroad in Switzerland who would like to have an assisted suicide here…
Comment: Well let’s look then at the proposals from the Swiss national committee on medical ethics. Because they also suggest that an organisation should have some rules.
You know all those proposals from the committee on ethics are influenced by Mr Brunner, the public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich. He has made his proposals, and they took his proposals in order to make his proposals, we have never been asked. So these are of no worth at all.
Comment: Nevertheless many people here in Switzerland would be more comfortable if your organisation was more transparent.
Well maybe but this is not our first issue, our first issue is to help our members, and as long as the authorities which are competent do not say that something is wrong with us, there is no need for more transparency.
Comment: But you have been through all the authorities (Zurich public prosecutor, Swiss Minister of Justice, Swiss Council on Medical Ethics) and you have dismissed them all as incompetent or biased.
They are, I’m very sorry.
Question: Can I ask you about the Dignitas philosophy on people who would come to you who are mentally ill rather than physically ill? Why you think it’s okay to help someone with a major mental illness like schizophrenia to commit suicide?
As a human rights lawyer I am persuaded that the right to make an end of life decision belongs to every person who has capacity of discernment, most persons with mental illness have full capacity of discernment, of course. And I think this capacity to make an end of life decision should also apply to a healthy person, so the British discussion about terminally ill persons is completely obsolete. And I want to implement this last human right.
Question: What if someone came to you who was neither physically nor mentally ill but expressed the wish to die. Would you be able to help them?
Of course. For instance a very old person which has no illnesses at all, has some difficulties because in old age you will have some difficulties, has no longer family, has no longer friends. Why should we say no?
[2 July 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/10481309.stm, Imogen Foulkes, BBC News, Geneva]