Assisted (costs of) suicide

Dr Preisig: "May I help you?"

Dr Preisig of LifeCircle: “May I help you?”

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) . . .

Notes
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)

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5 Responses to Assisted (costs of) suicide

  1. jamesleonardpark says:

    Here is a free method of choosing death: stop eating and drinking.
    Everywhere on Earth, death by dehydration is legal and easy.
    With good supportive care, the process can be gentle and peaceful.

    • This is a very dangerous view and for that reason I have removed the link you included that recommends it. There are several doctors enjoying the limelight of such a recommendation. The first time a book was released in the UK recommending it, two high profile, agonising deaths followed in the national newspapers. More recently a well-known former right-to-die campaigner, Jean Davies, chose it as a form of protest, describing it as “horrific” in the days before she died. (Jean was someone with very good connections in the medical profession to help and advise on supportive care.)

      I have covered the subject very thoroughly in successive books. If you can’t afford the books, use the google “look inside” feature to skim through relevant chapters at no cost: I don’t write these books to try to make lots of money!

      Is it possible to have a peaceful death by refusing food and liquids? Yes, for some people, in some stages of health, with proper preparation, a supportive network and with access to the right medication, yes. For others the answer is not just “not really”: the answer is weeks of agony of nightmarish intensity for the person concerned and traumatic horror for those loved ones witnessing the torture of their death. You should not, for one minute, think you can just “do it” unless you are very, very knowledgeable about what is involved, how to prepare and go through with it, what to do if it goes wrong, and whether your individual condition makes you a suitable candidate. I say this as someone who wrote what was probably the first comprehensive essay on the subject (in Beyond Final Exit, 20 years ago) and updated the research from sources worldwide since. As the Director of Exit, it is my full-time work researching the methods of peaceful self-euthanasia, including this one.

  2. Kohavah says:

    Individuals through out the world, need to have the knowledge and confidence to exit this world, when it is best for them. There can be no ransom involved in this right of safe passage out of this atmosphere, when it is deemed rational to the individual, who thus takes this option.

    That is why I have enormous respect for this website, and for those individuals who have taken on the hard work, to inform and help others, in their right of way, to assist themselves in taking this final step.

    Once again, I express my overwhelming gratitude for the courageous and compassionate service, pertaining to the positive enlightenment, that you have been willing to share, to Mankind (male and female) as they expand and progress, moving their gracious intellect forward in time.

    Respectfully,
    Kohavah

  3. Fouchini Maartens says:

    I support assisted euthanasia, because I hate to see suffering and hopeless pain and I also would not like to suffer myself. We euthanise our pets when they suffer, why must people suffer when there is no hope?

  4. mahalia says:

    For one of my college classes I am doing a research paper on assisted suicide so I’ve found many interesting sides to this debate. My paper is focusing more on assisted suicide laws in the United States, which are few and far between as it is only legal in a couple states. Assisted suicide is a very interesting topic to delve into because there are so many different arguments. As was said in this article, assisted suicide can be extremely pricey, which has never made much sense to me. If a person is suffering so much that they are making the decision to die, it shouldn’t cost them massive amounts of money. A person should always be able to die with at least some dignity. Because of the cost of this way of dying there are many terminally ill patients suffering for much longer than they should ever have to.

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