‘How is it possible that at times we can be physicians and at times assistants in suicide?’ Attitudes and experiences of palliative care physicians in respect of the current legal situation of suicide assistance in Switzerland

Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (9):594-601 (2023)
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Abstract

IntroductionSwitzerland lacks specific legal regulation of assistance in suicide. The practice has, however, developed since the 1980s as a consequence of a gap in the Swiss Criminal Code and is performed by private right-to-die organisations. Traditionally, assistance in suicide is considered contrary to the philosophy of palliative care. Nonetheless, Swiss palliative care physicians regularly receive patient requests for suicide assistance. Their attitudes towards the legal regulations of this practice and their experience in this context remain unclear.ObjectivesOur study aimed to explore and describe the attitudes and experiences of Swiss palliative care physicians concerning the legal situation of suicide assistance.MethodsIn 2019, we performed an exploratory interview study with 12 Swiss palliative care physicians on palliative sedation as an alternative to assisted suicide. In this paper, we present the results that emerged from a thematic subanalysis of the data.ResultsParticipants stated that assistance in suicide and palliative care are based on opposing philosophies, but they admitted a shift in paradigm over the last years in the sense that one practice does not necessarily exclude the other. They reported various roles in suicide assistance and considered that the current activities of Swiss right-to-die organisations were problematic and needed to be regulated by law.Discussion and conclusionThese results could enrich national and international reflection on suicide assistance in the context of palliative care by reducing confusion between the two practices and strengthening the confidence of patients and their relatives.

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Roberto Andorno
University of Zürich

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