Most people agree that every person has the right to seek happiness in their own way, and to live life, even choosing the time and manner of death, in the way that they would wish.
In Switzerland, any citizen can make a reasonable request of any of several organisations, and any number of doctors will be willing to prescribe sufficient medicines to enable a person to die peacefully. The process is fairly open and regulated, but not officiously so. Safeguards are in place and reasonable attempts are made to dissuade a person and consider the request in light of their medical records, also considering if the person has made reasonable use of appropriate palliative care services. The costs involved are negligible.
Not so for Brits, who make up one of the largest contingents of foreigners visiting Switzerland for assisted suicide. For anyone who can fulfil the necessary requirements, the same checks are in place and if (in the very rare case) anything goes ‘wrong’ then the person can be taken to hospital to die. There is one or two extra factors to dissuade persons from the final step however, and that is that the process for foreigners is usually inordinately expensive. The standard procedure requires not only that you come up with considerable paperwork, medical records, and possibly a psychiatric assessment. Firstly you need to break the law. Not in a big way, and not in a way that doesn’t routinely go unprosecuted, but commit, or rather persuade someone else to commit, an illegal act: the simple process of having someone accompany you to Switzerland. By doing that, that person has contravened the Suicide Act as is theoretically liable to a lengthy prison term.
The pronouncements of the last Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) made it reasonably clear that when the ‘chaperone’ was well-motivated, had not persuaded the person to commit suicide, and wasn’t doing so for selfish motives, that after all things had been considered a prosecution would be unlikely. (In practice, a person may still be liable to arrest and traumatic police interrogation before “all things have been considered” sufficiently to hand it over to the DPP, and then wait a limbo of a year or more before finding out if a prosecution will proceed.)
But there is an even bigger barrier: MONEY. It turns out that it is rather costly to process a foreigner through the stages of assisted dying. Estimates for Dignitas,(1-3) the main organisation that accepts foreign applicants, vary from £5000 to 10,000. It took this blog a little digging to discover the costs using another organisation, LifeCircle,(4-6) but it would appear that costs are about the same.(7) (Both organisations say they will waive costs in exceptional circumstances.)
Is there any reason why such a simple human act should be so prohibitively expensive? One of the arguments for legalising assisted suicide in the U.K. is that access to such facilities should not be a question of wealth. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is currently being examined by parliament, and yet at the latest reading we discover how enormous costs could easily creep in.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: “On the first day in Committee your Lordships decided overwhelmingly that a person may only obtain an order subject to the consent of the High Court, Family Division. You do not need to be a lawyer … to know that applications to the High Court of any sort are apt to be expensive. … A city lawyer charging £500 or £700 an hour is rather different from a country lawyer charging £100 or £200. It will also depend, as I said, on the complexity, but one is talking of thousands, not hundreds, of pounds.”(9-10)
One could, of course, always try to get legal aid (11) . . .
1. Dignitas (homepage)
2. Dignitas (brochure)
3. Exit’s quick guide to Dignitas
4. LifeCircle (homepage)
5. LifeCircle (introduction)
6. LifeCircle (brochure)
7. Two elderly Scots die with help from LifeCircle (cost £15,000)
8. Canadian review of LifeCircle
9. Read the full discussion of: House of Lords 16 January 2015
10 Exit considers the Falconer bill
11. MoJ refuses to release information on legal aid cuts (Politics.co.uk)
(further links: please scroll down using the right-hand column)