Should doctors be allowed to help people commit suicide?

Citizens in Zurich, Switzerland, think so after rejecting a referendum to impose tighter control on who’s eligible to receive assisted suicide. In Switzerland, the practice entails providing life-ending drugs such as barbiturates to individuals who want to take their own lives.

But before dredging up thoughts of Jack Kevorkian‘s physician-assisted suicide, it should be noted that only patients — not doctors — are allowed to administer the life-ending doses in the country. In Zurich, 200 people perform the act each year, according to Reuters.

Over the last decade, the country has attracted “suicide tourism,” consisting of people who seek assisted suicide in Switzerland because the practice is illegal in their countries. The Swiss referendum sought to limit assisted suicide services to only people who lived in Zurich for a minimum of one year in efforts to discourage foreigners from booking one-way trips to the city.

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Even though the referendum did not pass, Swiss officials want to establish clear rules about who can commit assisted suicide, favoring people with terminal illnesses over people wanting to kill themselves without medical motivations.

Some scholars think assisted suicide already poses legal problems in Switzerland, arguing current codes don’t mesh with the practice. Also, they note the danger of giving doctors the authority to prescribe lethal doses of medications.

Despite concerns, assisted suicide has remained legal in the country since the 1940s, as long as the person assisting has no vested interest in the death, reports the BBC.

In the United States, Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act,” put forth in the mid-1990s, grants terminally-ill state residents the right to self-administer lethal doses of drugs to commit suicide. The states of Washington and Montana also implemented nearly identical laws.

Photo: A doctor holds up a “euthanasia kit.” Credit: Getty Images