"Suicide Tourism" In Switzerland Is More Popular Than Ever

Switzerland has long been a popular travel destination. Mountain resorts! Chocolate factories! But the European country is quickly becoming renowned for a more, well, morbid activity. A recent study from the Journal of Medical Ethics found that the number of people traveling to Switzerland for legal assisted suicide has doubled over the last four years. Dubbed "suicide tourism," the industry seems to be steadily growing in Switzerland, which is one of the only European countries that permits assisted suicide.

According to the researchers, the majority of "suicide tourists" hail from the United Kingdom and Germany. In fact, traveling to Switzerland for the sole purpose of ending your life has become so popular in the U.K. that there's now a euphemism for it: "going to Switzerland."

Assisted suicide is also legal in Luxembourg and Belgium, but Switzerland seems to be the hotspot for suicide tourism. Why Switzerland? Researchers point to the country's loose laws, which fail to regulate the circumstances under which assisted suicide can be performed. The researchers also noted a "legal gray area" when it comes to administering sodium pentobarbital, the most commonly used drug. Plus, there are several Swiss organizations that not only help Swiss nationals carry out assisted suicide, but foreigners as well:

The imbalance between there being no definitive legislation in Switzerland and the clearly restrictive regulations in other European countries results in an influx of people who come to Switzerland for the sole purpose of committing suicide aided by one of these organizations.
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Although there was a slight decline of "suicide tourists" between 2008 and 2009, their numbers doubled between 2009 and 2012. Nearly 44 percent of the 611 foreigners hailed from Germany, while 20.6 percent were from the U.K. France rounded out the top three, with 10 percent of foreign assisted suicide cases.

In all, the "suicide tourists" came from 31 countries, but it's clear that citizens of Western European nations, as well as the United States, had more interest in assisted suicide. According to the researchers, the number of travelers from the U.K., Germany, France and the U.S. continue to steadily increase. Italy, however, saw the largest increase of citizens traveling to Switzerland — there were 10 times as many Italian assisted-suicide patients in 2012 as there were in 2008.

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As for the profile of the typical "suicide tourist," the researchers said the median age was 69, "an age at high risk of malignancy or chronic disease." Women were also 1.4 times more likely to choose assisted suicide. Patients tended to have underlying neurological diseases, such as motor neurone disease, Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis. Interestingly enough, the patients were less likely to be in the end stages of their diseases.

Aside from Switzerland's loose laws, the researchers speculate that growing political debate may have something to do with the increase of foreign assisted-suicide patients. Most industrialized countries, including the U.S. and England, seem unwilling to pass "dying with dignity laws," although they continue to garner support. A 2012 survey from the Swiss Medical Lawyers Association, which polled 12 European countries, found that 75 percent of respondents said people should have the right to die, especially if they were enduring serious pain or illness, Reuters reported.

Despite public support, many European countries may still have a tough time passing assisted-suicide legislation because the Catholic and Protestant churches — both of which are prominent in Europe — oppose euthanasia. France, however, may be closer to legalizing assisted suicide, as two recent court decisions, including one acquitting a doctor who performed euthanasia, show a changing tide for the heavily Catholic country.

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