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Dignitas, the Swiss group that has assisted the suicides of 619 of its Swiss and foreign members since 1998, has petitioned the Swiss Supreme Court to permit it to facilitate the deaths of those deemed chronically depressed or mentally ill.

Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, a human rights lawyer, views assisted suicide as a basic human right that should be available to those with chronic mental illness. The petition, which was scheduled to be heard by the Swiss high court on October 27, involves a Swiss man with bipolar disorder, also called manic depressive disorder, who lives abroad.

As yet, the court has not issued a ruling in the matter. Minelli spoke about the case during a September speech to Liberal Democrats attending a conference in Brighton, England: “If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right.” “We should accept generally,” he continued, “the right of a human being to say, ‘Right, I would like to end my life,’ without any pre-condition, as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”

Labeled the “suicide missionary” by the London Times, Minelli said that he would take the court case all the way to the European high court, if necessary. “I tell [Dignitas] members suffering from mental illnesses: I am fighting for your freedom,” he explained. [London Times, 9/20/06, 9/21/06, 9/22/06; Daily Post, 9/21/06; BBC News, 9/20/06; Independent, 9/21/06; International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Update 2006, Vol 20, No5]