Anyone suffering from an illness which will lead inevitably to death, or anyone with an unendurable disability, who wants voluntarily to put an end to their life and suffering can, as a member of DIGNITAS, request the association to help them with accompanied suicide.
DIGNITAS procures the necessary medication for this, a lethal, fast-acting and completely painless barbiturate which is dissolved in ordinary drinking water. After taking it, the patient falls asleep within a few minutes, after which sleep passes peacefully and completely painlessly into death.
Naturally, each permitted use of a fatally effective medication requires a Swiss doctor’s prescription, for only by this means can the drug legally be procured. People resident in Switzerland should first discuss with us the question of which doctor may issue the prescription: in most cases nowadays, the family doctor (general practitioner/GP) is pre- pared to do so.
Where this is not the case, and for people who are not resident in Switzerland, DIGNITAS calls on doctors who cooperate with DIGNITAS. After an in-depth evaluation of the member’s written request and medical information, and following at least two face-to-face meetings with the member (which allows the DIGNITAS doctor to satisfy him- or herself that the member meets the pre-conditions for the desired accompanied suicide) the prescription may be issued to DIGNITAS.
From this time onwards, the member wishing to die can arrange the time of their accompanied suicide with DIGNITAS. There are always at least two people present at an accompanied suicide: they can then testify as to the course of events.
Frequently, members want to die in the company of those closest to them. DIGNITAS emphasizes the importance of involving friends and relatives in the process: the “long journey” that is assisted dying requires careful preparation for and consideration of the appropriate time to say farewell.
DIGNITAS’ experience shows that only a very few people who enrol as members take advantage of the service for assistance with suicide. They usually feel sufficiently protected by the Patient’s Instructions. If these are observed – because they specify that no life-prolonging measures are to be initiated – any life-threatening situation will lead to a natural death. Membership of DIGNITAS endows members with confidence: in the event of a hopeless situation, a member can say “I have had enough now, I want to die.” This feeling of security is of exceptional importance to mature human beings.
Prerequisites for the preparation of an accompanied suicide
In order to access the service of an accompanied suicide, someone has to:
- be a member of DIGNITAS, and
- be of sound judgement, and
- possess a minimum level of physical mobility (sufficient to self-administer the drug).
Because the co-operation of a Swiss medical doctor (physician) is absolutely vital in ob- taining the required drug, further prerequisites mean that the person must have:
- a disease which will lead to death (terminal illness), and/or
- an unendurable incapacitating disability, and/or
- unbearable and uncontrollable pain.
Any member of DIGNITAS – no matter whether resident within Switzerland or ‘abroad’ – can ask for an accompanied suicide to take place at the DIGNITAS’ premises. In addition to meeting the prerequisites set out above, the member must submit a formal request for the preparation of an accompanied suicide to DIGNITAS. This request must comprise:
- A personal letter to DIGNITAS, preferably typed, in which the member asks for an accompanied suicide with the help of DIGNITAS. The letter must state the reason(s) for making the request and must describe the member’s present physical condition and how it affects them.
- A biographical sketch / CV, also describing the member’s situation with respect to their next of kin – whether and to what extent they support the member’s wish for an accompanied suicide, and whether the member might be accompanied by members of their family and/or close friends during the trip to Switzerland. DIGNITAS and the doctors assessing a request use this information to get a clear picture of the member’s personal background and family circumstances.
- One or more up-to-date medical reports together with two or three older ones. These reports must provide substantial information on the case history, diagnosis, and - if possible - actual and suggested treatment / measures as well as prognosis. The most recent report must not be more than three to four months old, and all reports must be clearly legible. Pictures, such as x-ray films etc., and laboratory analyses should not be included.
Obviously, it is important to ask doctors and clinics to provide copies of medical reports at an early stage. These reports must be in English, French or German; for other languages official translations must be obtained and provided.
Once DIGNITAS receives a member’s complete request, it can be processed and sent for assessment to the medical doctors cooperating with DIGNITAS. Assuming that the doctors agree to help in the specific case (by giving the so-called “provisional green light”), DIGNITAS will inform the member after which all further steps may be discussed in detail. The “provisional green light” is the preliminary consent of a Swiss medical doctor, which bases on the request and the medical file. However, definite decision remains reserved until personal consultation between the Swiss medical doctor(s) and the member.
Preparation of an accompanied suicide for Swiss residents
Members residing in Switzerland also submit a formal request for the preparation of an accompanied suicide to DIGNITAS. DIGNITAS will then get in touch with them and arrange for a visit at home by one of the members of the DIGNITAS escort team.
In principle, any medical doctor accredited in Switzerland may issue the prescription for the lethal drug used for an accompanied suicide. Therefore, it is important to discuss this possibility in advance with the family doctor/GP and further medical doctors involved in the treatment.
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