Swiss doctor acquitted after assisted suicide

Changes could be afoot in Swiss legislation after a doctor was acquitted this week of violating regulations for assisted suicide.

Last year Dr Philippe Freiburghaus was convicted of prescribing a lethal drug for an 89-year-old man without diagnosing him. The prosecution contended that the doctor had “crossed the line” because he assisted the suicide without a diagnosis and without knowing whether he had a short life expectancy. He was fined the nominal sum of 500 francs.

The exasperated Dr Freiburghaus appealed the verdict. “Soon a doctor will no longer be able to do anything without contravening legal niceties,” he told the media. “It’s as though I’m continuing a voyage in the land of the absurd.” He said that his patient appeared to be suffering from rectal cancer but he had refused to be examined and threatened to commit suicide.

This week a cantonal court in Neuchâtel overturned Dr Freiburghaus’s conviction without giving any reason.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights ordered Switzerland to clarify the conditions under which assisted suicide is possible when a different case showed the ambiguity of the law. In that case, an elderly woman was denied assisted suicide because she was not suffering from a terminal illness. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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