Skip to content

The Swiss have refused to turn their backs on dying Britons who want the choice to end their suffering, nor should we

To date over 150 Britons have been assisted to die at Dignitas in Switzerland. A referendum in the Swiss Canton (State) of Zurich today (Sunday) decided overwhelmingly that the choice of assisted suicide should not be outlawed; either for Swiss nationals, or foreigners.

Commenting, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:

“With the present lack of a safeguarded alternative at home, this result will come as a relief to many people in Britain who want the choice of an assisted death, should they find themselves suffering at the end of life. The people of Zurich have taken a brave decision, and in doing so they have refused to turn their backs on dying Britons who want the choice to end their suffering – nor should we.

“Most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of Britons travelling abroad to die. A minority both here and in Switzerland would like to see assisted dying completely banned, with assisters prosecuted. Whereas many others, like Dignity in Dying, would like to see the process regulated, with strict criteria limiting the choice to terminally ill, mentally competent adults. But the only law we can change is our own.

“Despite today’s news we shouldn’t be relying on the Swiss to provide a compassionate solution for Britons suffering at the end of their lives. The Swiss could decide at any time to restrict assisted suicide to Swiss residents, and furthermore, we shouldn’t be forcing our dying adults to travel to another country in order they can have what they consider to be a dignified death. Our parliament should be setting out who should be allowed to be assisted to die, and in what circumstances, here in the UK.

“Decision-makers have so far avoided dealing with this issue, in part because the option is available to those Britons who can afford it and are physically able to travel, to choose an assisted death in Switzerland. However, this is just a small part of the problem. At present, terminally ill people unwilling to suffer against their wishes at the end-of-life are forced to ask loved ones to risk imprisonment and help them to die; others are illegally helped to die by doctors without safeguards, and some attempt to end their lives alone, behind closed doors.

“Much better would be an assisted dying law with upfront safeguards, which would investigate a request to die when the person is still alive and alternative options can be set out. This would better protect potentially vulnerable people, provide choice at the end of life for those suffering unbearably and prevent those who act compassionately towards another’s request to die from lengthy and distressing investigation whilst grieving for the loss of a loved one. Furthermore it would allow people to die at home surrounded by their loved ones.”


Notes to editor:

About Dignity in Dying:

  • Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
  • Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
  • The British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 found that 92% of non-religious and 71% of religious people support assisted dying. This relates to overall support of 82%.

Media Contacts:
For all Dignity in Dying media enquiries, please contact Jo Cartwright on 020 7479 7737 / 07725433025 or at