Switzerland backs assisted suicide in prisons

Sick prisoners will be allowed to request assisted suicide in Switzerland although the modalities still have to be worked out, prison system officials said on Thursday.

Switzerland backs assisted suicide in prisons
Illustration photo: AFP

The issue has come to the fore following a request made in 2018 by a convict behind bars for life, which exposed a legal vacuum in a country that has long been at the forefront of the global right-to-die debate.

Switzerland's cantons, which implement prison sentences, have agreed “on the principle that assisted suicide should be possible inside prisons,” the Conference of Cantonal Departments of Justice and Police said.

Conference director Roger Schneeberger told AFP that there were still differences between cantons on how assisted suicides could be carried out in prisons and a group of experts would issue recommendations by November.

Swiss law generally allows assisted suicide if the person commits the lethal act themselves — meaning doctors cannot administer deadly injections, for example — and the person consistently and independently articulates a wish to die.

Organisations that support assisted suicide also apply their own procedures, which are more robust than the legal requirements and sometimes require the person who is requesting it to have a serious illness.

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Denmark has reduced number of suicides, but more can be done to help those at risk

Denmark is one of a limited number of countries to have seen a reduced national suicide rate over the last three decades.

Denmark has reduced number of suicides, but more can be done to help those at risk
A file photo of a Danish telephone helpline centre. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The total number of people who took their own life in Denmark in 2017 was around 600, compared to an annual rate of 1,600 in 1980.

The Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention says that it is more difficult to end one’s own life than in the past.

“Everything that contains carbon monoxide has been cut back and the dangerous medicine which people had access to before has been changed to less dangerous preparations,” said Merete Nordentoft, a professor at the institute.

International journal Science on Friday highlighted Denmark in its focus on countries working to reduce suicide rates.

The country has also improved its ability to help prevent suicide through counselling, according to Nordentoft.

“Telephone helplines, suicide prevention clinics in the various (healthcare administrative) regions and a number of other targeted efforts have given people in risk zones better help,” she said.

Jeppe Kristen Toft, a director with the Livslinien (Lifeline) helpline, said the need for counselling remained high for those at risk of suicide.

“Everything suggests that it is crucial for suicide prevention that we at Livslinien are open at night as well as during the day,” Toft said.

While recognizing the trend as a positive one, Nordentoft noted that Denmark still has a high suicide rate and that it was important to continue work to reduce it.

“There’s nothing more we can do in regard to making it harder to commit suicide. That’s why we have to help at-risk people directly,” she said.

Denmark does not have a national plan of action for reducing suicide rates, in contrast to many other countries.

Toft called for such a plan to be introduced in the Nordic country.

“Even in a country as small as Denmark, not all initiatives are scaled up so they work nationally. That’s why we need to coordinate all initiatives,” he said.

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