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A ruling by Switzerland’s highest court has opened up the possibility that people with serious mental illnesses could be helped by doctors to take their own lives.

Switzerland already allows physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients under certain circumstances. The Federal Tribunal’s decision puts mental illnesses on the same level as physical ones.

“It must be recognized that an incurable, permanent, serious mental disorder can cause similar suffering as a physical (disorder), making life appear unbearable to the patient in the long term,” the ruling said.

“If the death wish is based on an autonomous decision which takes all circumstances into account, then a mentally ill person can be prescribed sodium-pentobarbital and thereby assisted in suicide,” it added.

Various organizations exist in Switzerland to help people who want to commit suicide, and assisting someone to die is not punishable under Swiss law as long as there is no “selfish motivation” for doing so.

The judges made clear in their ruling that certain conditions would have to be met before a mentally ill person’s request for suicide assistance could be considered justified.

“A distinction has to be made between a death wish which is an expression of a curable, psychiatric disorder and which requires treatment, and (a death wish) which is based on a person of sound judgment’s own well-considered and permanent decision, which must be respected,” they said.

The case was brought by a 53-year old man with serious bipolar affective disorder who asked the tribunal to allow him to acquire a lethal dose of pentobarbital without a doctor’s prescription.

One Response to “Right to die for mentally ill accepted in Swiss law”

  1. D says:


    This is a huge step IMHO that the life long suffering and trauma of mental illness is finally being seen as akin to a terminal illness.

    So many cases of diseases like bipolar and schizophrenia are truly unmanageable, let alone curable. But the patient is usually of sound mind (depending how that is defined).

    It is very sad that in a place like India, any form of suicide puts others around you at risk of being punished. Simply being aware of a persons suicidal intentions (even if they have been long standing and clearly well planned or non-impulsive) puts others around the individual at risk of grave punishment.

    This is especially true for mentally ill people who are referred to as ‘insane’ and compared to minors in that they are never of ‘sound mind’ to take such a major decision. As a result all involved in the life of a mentally ill person who simply wants the right to die,are held responsible and sometimes this is punishable by death.

    I believe in preparing your family and loved ones when you have taken the final bold decision of ending your life… but here doing that is putting them at risk of being treated as criminals.

    Hence methods that are well planned and a (relatively) pleasant way to die (like the helium and plastic bag method) make all those around you considered as abetting a suicide.

    That includes the man who supplies the helium tank (thinking you want to fill balloons), the unsuspecting chemist that supplies the OTC sleeping pills, or even people who simply see signs of your intent
    Especially if people know that helium is a relatively comfortable method of self deliverance but hence ignore the canister (because they too want you to find peace) are criminals under Indian laws. Even your doctor who knows you are suicidal (and have been for many years) but can’t offer anymore in terms of improvement in your condition, is under threat.
    Who wants to go to peace when you know you are truly ruining the lives of so many you care for? This time not simply emotionally but practically too.

    On another note it is really hard to get helium in India and it is often mixed with hydrogen anyway.

    Anyway, I really do hope that it becomes acceptable for people to travel to Switzerland for this purpose.( Maybe it helps if you hold a UK passport)

    Thanks for reading my long winded comment and for posting such good and promising information.

    Kind regards


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