The founder of Switzerland’s best-known assisted suicide group, Dignitas, 85-year-old Ludwig Minelli, has been charged with profiting from assisted suicide. Minelli has firmly denied the charges, denouncing them as “unfounded and incomprehensible”.
This is the first case of its kind in Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1941, but with the proviso that the help must not be tendered “for selfish motives”.
The allegations concern the deaths of three German women. In one case, in 2010, Minelli allegedly charged a mother and daughter double suicide 10,000 Swiss francs each – much higher than the usual cost of 5,000 to 6,000 Swiss francs.
In the other, he allegedly accepted a 100,000 Swiss franc donation to Dignitas from an 80-year-old woman who was not terminally ill. Three doctors refused to authorise her death but Minelli kept looking until he found a more amenable doctor. Prosecutors claim that his persistence in this second case was based on the possible donation. They also say the woman gave Minelli power of attorney, which allowed him to transfer 46,000 Swiss francs to a Dignitas account when she died.
Prosecutors are calling for a fine of 7,500 Swiss francs, court costs, a suspended financial penalty of around 65,000 Swiss francs, and a two-year probation period.
May 17 marked the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Dignitas. It began as a splinter group from the German-speaking Exit group and has become the most notorious of Switzerland’s assisted suicide associations, partly because it welcomes overseas clients.
In a celebratory press release, the organisation declared that “Dignitas is the spearhead of a movement which advocates for people one day not having to travel from abroad to Switzerland for an accompanied suicide anymore. The goal of Dignitas: to become unnecessary.”
Sunday, May 27, 2018
Ireland, which was once Europe’s most socially conservative nation, has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution in order to permit abortion. The vote was roughly 2 to 1 in favour of change, with nearly the whole country supporting it. Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reassured No voters. “Ireland will still be the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful.”
The legalisation of abortion comes hard on the heels of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015. Together they suggest that Ireland is not the same country, at least not compared to 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was passed by a 2 to 1 margin. It is obvious that the country has “changed, changed utterly” in a single generation – although people will differ on whether this signals a “terrible beauty” or a terrible shame.
What is responsible for the turnabout? The decline in the prestige and power of the Catholic Church, which once was synonymous with Irish culture, surely has something to do with it. But there must be other reasons as well, as Ireland is simply treading the well-worn path towards secularisation which has swept across Western Europe. It’s worthwhile trying to understand the dynamics of the change, as the rise of bioethics itself is part of that secularisation. Otherwise we – Ireland and the rest of us – will fail to understand ourselves.
One example of the narrative which is being used to explain the referendum result is the image of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian migrant who died after asking for an abortion in 2012. It was used to show what happens to women who are denied their reproductive rights. However, abortion had nothing to do with her tragic death, a government investigation concluded in 2014. Instead, it was a perfect storm of medical negligence.
“We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink," says Mr Varadkar about the referendum result. If he meant by these self-congratulatory words that Ireland is no longer living in a world of delusion and lies, he has obviously spoken too soon.
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