Voters in Zurich have emphatically rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism” in two referenda. 85% of the 278,000 votes cast opposed the ban on assisted suicide and 78% opposed outlawing it for foreigners.
Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, as long as it is performed by a non-physician with no vested interest in the death. And only passive assistance can be offered, so drugs can be provided but not administered.
Around 200 people commit assisted suicide each year in Zurich, including many foreign visitors. Dignitas, the best known local organisation, says it has helped more than 1,000 foreigners to take their own lives.
The referendum had proposed a limit to suicide tourism, by imposing a residency requirement of at least one year in the Zurich area.
It was backed by two conservative political parties, the religious Evangelical People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union. But the major parties of the left and right, including the Swiss People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party, had called on their supporters to vote against both motions.
The size of the majority against a ban on assisted suicide reflects the widely held belief among the Swiss that is their individual right to decide when and how to die.
Independent MSP Margo Macdonald sought to bring in much more limited legislation to allow assisted suicide in Scotland, but only where the patient had been diagnosed as terminally ill or permanently physically incapacitated to the point where they find life intolerable. Her End of Life Care Bill was heavily defeated in the Scottish Parliament.
Macdonald will introduce a new, simplified Bill following her recent re-election as an MSP, although its chances of becoming law appear to be equally slim.
It would seem that Switzerland values individual freedom to choose on this issue more than Scotland does.