The number of so-called “suicide tourists” travelling to Switzerland to end their lives has doubled over a four-year period, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
Almost half came from Germany, while one out of five was British. France and Italy also featured in the top ten, both having seen significant rises in death by euthanasia.
The study analysed the 611 cases of assisted suicide carried out between 2008 and 2012. It found people from 31 countries were helped to die in Switzerland during that period, with the median age being 69 and 58.5 percent of the cases women.
Paralysis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions were the conclusive factor in nearly 50 percent of the cases examined. A third of the suicide tourists suffered from more than one condition.
Switzerland legalised assisted suicide in the 1940s, if performed by someone with no direct interest in the death. In 2012, 172 people took their lives in Switzerland, the study found. This was up from 86 in 2009.
While “mercy killing” is legal in some European countries, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, courts in Britain, France and the European Court of Human Rights have been debating the issue recently.
In Britain, an assisted dying bill is under further discussion after a House of Lords debate. Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer proposed the bill, saying during the debate “(the current situation) leaves the rich able to go to Switzerland, the majority reliant on amateur assistance, the compassionate treated like criminals.”
After a decline from 123 in 2008 to 86 in 2009, the number of assisted suicides increased every subsequent year up to 2012.
Researchers suggest the initial dip could be a result of the negative media reporting of four particular cases in 2008. The choice of killer was death by helium inhalation. Described as “excruciating”, the method was later abandoned.