Thousands join Swiss lethal-drug right-to-die group

Reuters / Philippe Wojazer
Exit, a right-to-die organization that provides lethal drugs so the terminally ill can die, has seen 13,413 people join up in 2014 - a 25 percent surge and a record number of new members, the group says.

The group says it has 81,015 members, an increase from 67,602 in 2013. The figures come from the German and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland, while statistics from the French speaking part of the country will be available in April.

Last year alone Exit heard from around 2,500 people who were thinking of killing themselves, of which they looked into 900 and helped a total of 583 people to end their lives. The most common reasons for application were terminal cancer and chronic pain disorders.

Assisted suicide is allowed under Swiss law if performed by a person with no direct interest in the other person’s death, although the lethal dose can only be made available to the person who wants to die.

There are two main groups in Switzerland catering to people who seek an assisted suicide, Exit and Dignitas. Some even come from abroad to use their services.

The current surge in people wanting to be given the right to the end their own lives is being attributed to an aging population, a rising number of people suffering from dementia and more people wanting to determine the course of their lives and end needless suffering.

READ MORE: ‘Suicide due to old age’: Swiss company wants to aid healthy elderly die

Last year Exit made headlines after a vote to extend its services to elderly people who are not terminally ill but who may be suffering from physical or psychological problems. The company believes this also contributed into the 2014 figures.

As a result the company now defines assisted suicide as “the right to the freely responsible death of a very old person wishing to die.”

“Those very advanced in age will no longer have to prove to the same extent as younger people that they are terminally ill in order to receive services,” the company said in a statement as it launched the service.

Assisted suicide is also legal in Germany, Japan, Columbia and Albania and in some of the US states. Euthanasia, meanwhile, is legal in Europe in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.

The French parliament is currently debating a bill that will let doctors put terminally ill patients into so-called “deep sedation” until they die, but falls short of assisted suicide or euthanasia.