Please note Exit does not give personal advice about Dignitas beyond the publicly information on here and in our complete guide, Five Last Acts II. This guide complies with all applicable laws and is applicable at the time of going to press. We recommend all readers download the official information booklets from Dignitas at the end of this article
- Reliability. The organisation was founded in 1998 and has run steadily in spite of setbacks and opposition. It has built up a solid organisation and set of procedures and uses experienced staff.
- Only place offering assisted suicide for foreigners. Dignitas offers the possibility of full, legal, medical, assisted suicide for anyone living in the UK (or any other country). Other places offering assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, such as Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg or parts of the USA, do so only for their own citizens.
- No ‘terminal illness’ requirement.
- Doctor-prescribed drugs.
- No requirement that suffering is confined to physical (mental suffering eligible). “Anyone suffering from an illness which will lead inevitably to death, or anyone with an unendurable disability, who wants voluntarily to put an end to their life and suffering can, as a member of Dignitas, request the association to help them with accompanied suicide.”
- Complete service offered (including management of the body after death if required).
- No compulsory waiting period.
- Cost. This can run to anything from (for instance) £7,000 to £10,000.
- No active euthanasia – the patient must take the final action him or herself.
- Assisted death – and the required drugs – are only available at Dignitas premises. Persons cannot be assisted unless they travel to Switzerland and cannot take drugs away with them for use at a future date.
- Considerable paperwork. This is to ensure voluntariness, provide sufficient evidence for a prescribing doctor to give a ‘green light’ and also to satisfy Swiss legal regulations.
- Bad publicity. Dignitas is frequently accused of bad practice – from dumping ashes in a lake to making exorbitant profits. Many of these stories come from a determined opponent and ex-employee of Dignitas. While readers will make up their own mind how much weight to give them, it should be pointed out that no charges against Dignitas have ever stuck, as far as we are aware (to the extent of making prosecution possible). There have also been concerns about shoddy premises – the back of a vehicle, a flat next to a brothel and so on – these are now laid to rest as Dignitas has acquired beautiful premises of its own (see photos).
- Possibility of Swiss law being changed. Dignitas has come into conflict with the Swiss authorities on several occasions. There are moves in some parts to outlaw what is seen as ‘death tourism.’ However, legal change in Switzerland tends to take a long time.
- Not ‘suicide on demand.’ The medical and legal requirements have to be followed strictly.
- Timing. A time has to be arranged by mutual agreement. For some people this lacks the spontaneity of ending one’s life by one’s own hand – for instance by the methods outlined in Five Last Acts II. But there is always ample opportunity to change one’s mind, even after travelling to Switzerland.
- Physical capacity. One must be able to at least drink through a straw or administer the drug in some other way.
- UK legal problems for those left behind. This is much less of a problem now than it was, but accompanying someone to Switzerland, making arrangements and so on, can still be grounds for prosecution (In most cases, where they were clearly compassionate, no prosecution has resulted. Arrest and drawn-out proceedings are still possible before a prosecution is dropped.)
What is meant by ‘assistance?’
The goalposts on assisted suicide seem to be open to continuous interpretation in England & Wales – see the Director of Public Prosecutions guidelines; but one thing is certain: you cannot expect a doctor to prescribe lethal barbiturates for you in the UK. Most persons will be able to use the information in Five Last Acts II should they need to end their life – for instance by compression or correct use of helium. But a few – for instance those that are paralysed from the neck down – would find such self-deliverance very difficult if not impossible. Others may simply prefer to have the Swiss scenario, complete with medical reassurances.
What is meant by costs? (approximate)
Dignitas joining fee: £133 (200 Swiss francs / CHF)
Annual membership: £53 (80 CHF)
Preparation for an accompanied suicide £1,994 (3000 CHF)
Doctor’s fees £665 (1000 CHF)
Costs for completing an accompanied suicide £1,994 (3000 CHF)
Funeral services & cremation £1,329 (2000 CHF)
Completing official procedures (optional) £997 (1500 CHF)
That comes to £7,165 at current rates, even before you make additional annual membership payments. You must also find the resources for flights to Zurich, ground transport, and accommodation costs in Switzerland. There are many airlines flying from the UK to Zurich, and may cost anything from just over a £100 each (for you and whoever accompanies you) to two or three times that, depending on when you book and where you fly from. If Dignitas has to assist with documentation, then further costs are likely, and you will have small incidental expenses.
A word about names: There are many organisations worldwide with the name Exit. Switzerland has one, and there is also a high-publicity Australian touring society, ‘Exit International.’ We are not connected to any of these or responsible for their literature or practices.
We have included (below) Dignitas’ official guide and FAQ – summaries have been published by various right-to-die groups (one Scottish group even charges – but it is exactly the same information!) You can also use the search facility in the right-hand column to look for other posts about Dignitas in the news that are featured on this blog.
Dignitas (various details including membership – free English documents)
Inside Dignitas – a series of photos from The Guardian
Wikipedia page on Dignitas