With the legislation of suicide in Switzerland, is there a case for allowing assisted suicide in Wales?
By Matthew Davies
An introduction into the term ’Euthanasia’
The word “Euthanasia” is a broad term used for mercy killing and is derived from the Greek word “Eu”; meaning “well” or “good” and “Thanatos”; meaning death. A mercy killing may be taking the life of an individual due to terminal illness, causing suffering and a poor quality of life, comparable to the way in which we make the decision to put animals down should they be suffering. However, Euthanasia at its most basic level contradicts the most basic moral rule in which we live by, being that ‘We shalt not kill’, making all forms of euthanasia incredibly controversial and as a result causing the conflicting views of the Welsh and Swiss legal system.
There are 5 different forms of Euthanasia, being:
Voluntary Euthanasia is where someone asks someone else to help them die. An example of this is a cancer patient who asks for drugs to quicken their death to avoid suffering. Involuntary Euthanasia is performed without the dying person being told, e.g terminating the life support of a coma patient. Passive Euthanasia is where doctors will give painkilling drugs to a patient but do nothing to save the patient. Active Euthanasia is where doctors give pain killing drugs knowing that the drug will also kill the patient, patients may want this so that they can die with dignity and not suffer their last days alive. Finally, Compulsory Euthanasia is where someone is forced into Euthanasia due to a certain illness or because they have reached a certain age. This form of Euthanasia is not legal and is incredibly inhumane. An example of compulsory Euthanasia in practice is when Adolf Hitler administered ‘Aktion T4’. This was a policy in which Hitler ordered the deaths of ‘undesirables’ such as those of unwanted ethnic groups such as Jews or Blacks as well as people with certain illnesses. Compulsory Euthanasia is the most extreme out of all the forms of Euthanasia, and can never be argued for as it is in many ways simply murder.
Policies on Euthanasia in Switzerland vs Wales
Currently, assisted suicide or active Euthanasia is legal in Switzerland as a result of article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code, administered in 1942. Therefore, in Switzerland it is legal for someone to ask someone else to help them die, and an example of this in practice is the Dignitas Clinic, who will give people a lethal injection to let them die quickly and pain free, essentially sending them into ‘eternal sleep’. However, the Suicide Act of 1961 made it illegal to assist someone in committing suicide in both England and Wales. Helping someone die in the form of active euthanasia isn’t recognised as an act of kindness by our legal system, and instead is punishable by a 14 year prison sentence. For this reason, many people in Wales who may be suffering due to a terminal illness are forced to sometimes life out a poor quality of life due to them being unable to ask someone to help them die whilst still maintaining a good quality of life. However, the 2 countries share similarities in that involuntary, passive and active euthanasia are all legal within Switzerland and Wales, as well as compulsory euthanasia being illegal in both. In this investigation, I will be studying whether Switzerland made the right choice in allowing assisted suicide, and if there is a case for Wales to follow.
Suicide Rates in Switzerland compared to Wales
Suicide rates in Switzerland
Under the basis that voluntary euthanasia is legal in Switzerland; the fact that people can legally assist someone in their suicide would mean that we may assume that suicide rates in Switzerland may be higher than Wales, where such actions are illegal. Through thorough research, we are able to identify whether this hypothesis is correct