Zurich Police Launch Investigation Into Brit's Assisted Suicide
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 6, 2004
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND--The 66-year-old British woman known in court documents as "Mrs. Z" died last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the High Court removed an injunction keeping her husband from traveling with her to a Swiss euthanasia clinic.
Zurich police announced that they have launched an investigation into the death, which was reported to them by Dignitas, the non-profit organization that assists people in legally killing themselves.
According to the BBC, Swiss authorities have been concerned by the growing number of foreigners traveling to Switzerland to die. In 2000 only three people from other countries came to Switzerland to commit suicide, compared to more than 90 in 2003.
As of Sunday, police in England had not indicated whether Mr. Z would be charged with a crime when he returns to the United Kingdom.
While Britain's Suicide Act 1961 makes it a crime -- with up to a 14-year prison sentence -- to help another to commit suicide, it is not clear whether it is a crime to help a person to travel to a country where it is legal to assist in a suicide.
Last Tuesday, High Court Senior Family Division judge Mr. Justice Hedley lifted the court injunction, saying it was not up to the court to keep Mr. Z from doing something that might or might not be a crime. It was now up to police to decide whether Mr. Z is committing a crime, he said.
The BBC and The Times both noted that the widow of a man who killed himself in Switzerland last year has never been charged with a crime.
Mrs. Z was diagnosed in 1997 with cerebellar ataxia, described as a degenerative brain disease. She convinced her husband to come with her to Zurich as she could not travel alone.
A British organization which promotes legalizing assisted suicide said the high-profile case indicates it is time for the United Kingdom to pass pro-euthanasia laws similar to those in Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
More than 20 people have traveled from the UK to Switzerland to end their lives in recent years.
In June of this year, an inquest found that Dignitas violated its own rules and Swiss law when it allowed two such "suicide tourists" with disabilities to kill themselves at its clinic. The inquest revealed that Robert and Jennifer Stokes, who killed themselves in a Dignitas "death room" on April 1, 2003, did not have terminal illness. Mr. Stokes had "depression with suicidal elements", and the couple worried that they might get placed into separate nursing facilities if their health deteriorated.
Under Swiss law, those who seek assistance in killing themselves are required to be evaluated to confirm that they have six months or less to live, and that they have made a conscious, "rational" decision to die.
Disability rights groups have opposed attempts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, citing situations in which people with physical and mental disabilities have been pressured to take their own lives, or have been killed by others. Governments that have allowed assisted suicide have included guidelines to restrict the ability of people with mental illness -- or who do not have an incurable condition -- to receive help in dying.
Many experts on both sides of the issue agree that the practice of assisted suicide is happening secretly every day in countries where it is not legal.
"Britons assisted suicide is probed" (The Times)