How should acts of euthanasia or assisted suicide that fall outside the parameters of the law be dealt with by the relevant authorities?
This is an important question because euthanasia and/or assisted suicide laws create an exception to a nation or state's criminal code on homicide. These laws effectively mean that, under prescribed circumstances it is licit to kill someone or to be directly involved in their death. In all other cases, that is to say, for deaths where the legal requirements for a person to qualify are not met, the logical conclusion should be that such cases would constitute an offence under the homicide laws.
Provisions such as free and fully informed consent, a formal diagnosis and confirmation that the person has full capacity for decision making are common elements of euthanasia & assisted suicide acts and bills. They are intended to ensure that no-one is coerced towards their death, that no-one is killed against their will or where their will is not known and that they are not influenced by depression or suicidal ideation. Without such expressions, limitations or 'safeguards' no euthanasia or assisted suicide bill would ever be likely to pass scrutiny of legislatures. These expressions give voice to the reality that vulnerable people could be at risk. But they are, in reality, little more than gestures of concern that can and will be tested.
Take the case of Swiss doctor, Philippe Freiburghaus. In July last year a Swiss regional court
found Freiburghaus guilty of killing an 89 year old man for whom there had been no formal diagnosis, even though the man had claimed to be suffering pain, had attempted suicide and was threatening suicide.
The Swiss journal, The Local reported:
The prosecution argued that Freiburghaus had “crossed the line” by failing to follow the legal regulations, which require that a doctor must properly diagnose the presence of an incurable illness and a short life expectancy before assisting suicide.
Freiburghaus told the court he acted out of compassion in prescribing sodium pentobarbital to the elderly man, who was suffering from pain and had tried to end his life.
The report went on to put Freiburghaus' side of the story:
Freiburghaus remained unrepentant, expressing disbelief over the court’s decision, according to an online report from Le Matin.
“Soon a doctor will no longer be able to do anything without contravening legal niceties,” he is quoted as saying by the newspaper.
'Legal niceties' is chillingly Orwellian and a dismissive attitude to the law and to life itself that would seem to betray Freiburghaus' attitude. But it also betrays the attitude of the court whose decision against the defendant in finding him guilty was simply to impose a fine of 500 francs which even The Local described as 'symbolic'.
So, the price of a life in Switzerland is 500 francs and the Swiss laws on homicide are reduced to a symbolic sham. But, as if that were not enough, Freiburghaus recently appealed the judgement and, surprise, surprise, it was overturned this week by a cantonal court.
The prosecution in the original case may well have observed that Freiburghaus had 'crossed the line' - an entirely objective claim supported by the courts findings. And while the price of that life at that time was rated at a mere 500 francs, the appeals court has effectively reduced that to nil and, moreover, has erased whatever line it was that Freiburghaus had indeed crossed
In a further bizarre twist, The Local - reporting on the appeal case last week, cited the Dignitas organisation outlining the requirements of the Swiss law:
Dignitas, a Swiss association for assisted suicide, has said that a Swiss doctor must confirm that a patient has a terminal illness, an “unendurable incapacitating disability” or “unbearable and uncontrollable pain” before a life-ending drug can be authorized.
This may be the law, but a recent study published in the Journal Epidemiology examined 1301 assisted suicide deaths in Switzerland found that 16% of the people who died had no reported illness.
Alex Schadenberg, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International made the following observations in his blog report:
Recently an 89-year-old British woman died by assisted suicide in Switzerland because she felt alienated from the modern world.
In April 2013, an Italian man, Pietro D'Amico, died by assisted suicide in Switzerland after receiving a wrong diagnosis.
In May 2013, the European Court of Human Rights said that Switzerland did not provide clear enough guidelines on who could obtain lethal drugs.
Switzerland lacks any reasonable guidelines concerning assisted suicide. It was a travesty of justice that the doctor was only fined 500 francs for assisting a suicide without a diagnosis, now the court is simply saying go ahead and kill.
The rest of the world should realize that this is the outcome of legalized assisted suicide.