UPDATED: Slight increase in assisted suicides in Switzerland in 2020

There was a slight increase in assisted suicides in Switzerland in 2020.

UPDATED: Slight increase in assisted suicides in Switzerland in 2020
An assisted suicide clinic, Dignitas, in Pfaeffikon near Zurich. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland saw an increase of 68 assisted suicides across the country from 2019 to 2020. 

In total, 1,282 people ended their lives using Swiss assisted suicide agency Exit Switzerland in 2020. 

On Friday, the German and Italian-speaking department of assisted suicide body Exit Switzerland released its data from 2020

According to the body – which administers assisted suicide in German and Italian-speaking Switzerland, 913 people chose to end their live with the service in 2020. 

In total, 312 used to the help of Exit in the canton of Zurich, followed by 133 in the cantons of Bern, Aargau (86), St.Gallen (53), Basel-Land (44), Lucerne (43 ) and Thurgau (37).

This is a slight decrease on previous figures, with 862 deaths in the regions in 2019. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland 


In French-speaking Switzerland, 369 people ended their lives in 2020. 

Besides Exit Switzerland, there are a number of other organisations which carry out assisted suicides. 

The main associations are Exit and Dignitas, along with the smaller Ex International and Lifecircle. 

Dignitas is perhaps best known outside Switzerland as while Exit only provides assistance for citizens or long-term residents of Switzerland while Dignitas provides assisted suicide services to foreigners as well.

Switzerland has been criticised for allowing foreigners to access assisted suicide, saying that it leads to the phenomenon of ‘suicide tourism’. 

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Switzerland: What is the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia?

While the terms often are used interchangeably, assisted suicide and euthanasia - and the laws that govern them - are quite different. Here’s what you need to know.

A person in a medical coat holds hands with another
Euthanasia and assisted suicide might be spoken of in the same breath, but they are quite different. Here's what you need to know. Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

The terms assisted suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are often used interchangeably – even by media and politicians covering the matter. 

There are however some key differences, both in terms of the legal situation and the practice itself. 

Assisted suicide is where a medical professional, usually a doctor but sometimes a pharmacist or other specialist, provides some form of medication to assist a patient as they commit suicide. 

EXPLAINED: How foreigners can access assisted suicide in Switzerland

Crucially, it is the patient who takes the final step, i.e. by taking a medication or by pressing a switch through which the medication is administered. 

Euthanasia on the other hand is where the medication which ends someone’s life is administered by a doctor or medical professional. 

Euthanasia is sometimes known as voluntary euthanasia, which references the fact that the patient volunteers for the process by providing consent. 

Other forms of medical intervention which lead to death – for instance turning off life support for someone who has been in a long-term coma – do not fit within the definition of voluntary euthanasia. 

The term ‘assisted dying’ is used as a grouping term to refer to both assisted suicide and euthanasia, although media sources – particularly in the United Kingdom – often use assisted dying when referring primarily to assisted suicide. 

What are the rules for assisted suicide and euthanasia in Switzerland? 

The law in Switzerland recognises the distinction between assisted suicide and euthanasia. 

Euthanasia is not permitted under law in Switzerland, while assisted suicide is allowed for both locals and foreigners. 

While article 115 of the Swiss penal code prohibits assisted suicide for “self-serving reasons” and article 114 prohibits “causing the death” of a person for “commendable motives, and in particular out of compassion for the victim”, assisted suicide for non-selfish reasons is not specifically prohibited as long as certain conditions are met. 

The Swiss supreme court has ruled the following: people must commit suicide by their own hand, for example, by taking medication themselves. A doctor cannot administer a lethal injection without being liable for criminal prosecution.

People must also be aware of actions they are undertaking and have given due consideration to their situation. In addition, they be consistently sure they wish to die, and, of course, not be under the influence of another person, or group of persons.

READ MORE: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland

Several other jurisdictions across Europe and the globe also make a legal distinction between the two, although euthanasia is legal in some countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Columbia. 

What is the medical procedure involved?

Most Swiss associations request that patients drink sodium pentobarbital, a sedative that in strong enough doses causes the heart muscle to stop beating.

Since the substance is alkaline, it burns a bit when swallowed.

A professional prepares the needle, but it is up to the patient to open the valve that allows the short-acting barbiturate to mix with a saline solution and begin flowing into their vein.

A video is shot of the patient stating their name, date of birth and that they understand what they are about to do. The camera keeps rolling as they open the valve and the footage is used as evidence that they willingly took their own life.

It usually takes about 20 to 30 seconds for the patient to fall asleep.