An important vote took place recently in Zurich. The electorate were asked whether assisted suicide clinics like Dignitas should be allowed to continue offering their services to people from outside the area.
Dignitas have grown up to help visitors to the area to die.This is suicide tourism - people wanting help in dying travelling around the world to areas where assisted suicide is legal.
The founder of Dignitas, Ludwig Minnelli, claims that of those accepted as patients by Dignitas, over 70% never actually use their services. They do not plan to die, but are seeking insurance in case their illness becomes intolerable.
In some cases, people want to die precisely because their condition is not terminal. They cannot bear the thought of their situation continuing indefinitely.
Jack Kevorkian, an American pathologist, claims to have helped at least 130 people to end their lives. After a videotape he had made showing him helping someone to die was shown on television, he was convicted of second degree murder. He was released from prison on parole in 2007.
The data on those helped by Kevorkian also show some concerning anomalies. A substantial majority of his "clients" were female, and most had a disabling, long-term, non-fatal illness. Many listed MS as their reason for seeking death. Why were women with MS so much more likely to seek Kevorkian's services than others?
Reasons for seeking Kevorkian's help included having a disability, pain, and "being a burden". This last is particularly concerning. It would be all too easy, for instance, for interested parties to make a disabled person, already oppressed by society's attitude to disability, feel that they were a "burden" and should seek to die.
By his extreme and possibly biased actions Kevorkian has done the assisted suicide movement no favours. Any legalised assisted suicide scheme needs robust safeguards to make sure that those seeking its help have received counselling, have had the chance to receive good quality palliative care, and as far as possible have the chance to lead a full and fulfilling life.
The result of Zurich's vote? Suicide tourism can continue in the city. Over the Atlantic in the USA, it has been reported that Kevorkian, now 82, is in hospital with pneumonia and kidney problems. I wonder whether, and if so how, his views have changed as a result of his own ill health?