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Journal Article


Reiter-Theil S, Wetterauer C, Frei IA. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018; 15(6): ePub.


Department Nursing and Allied Health Professions, University Hospital Basel, 4031 Basel, Switzerland.


(Copyright © 2018, MDPI: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute)






In Switzerland, the practice of lay right-to-die societies (RTDS) organizing assisted suicide (AS) is tolerated by the state. Patient counseling and accompaniment into the dying process is overtaken by RTDS lay members, while the role of physicians may be restricted to prescribing the mortal dose after a more or less rigorous exploration of the patient’s decisional capacity. However, Swiss health care facilities and professionals are committed to providing suicide prevention. Despite the liberal attitude in society, the legitimacy of organized AS is ethically questioned. How can health professionals be supported in their moral uncertainty when confronted with patient wishes for suicide? As an approach towards reaching this objective, two ethics policies were developed at the Basel University Hospital to offer orientation in addressing twofold and divergent duties: handling requests for AS and caring for patients with suicidal thoughts or after a suicide attempt. According to the Swiss tradition of “consultation” (“Vernehmlassung”), controversial views were acknowledged in the interdisciplinary policy development processes. Both institutional policies mirror the clash of values and suggest consistent ways to meet the challenges: respect and tolerance regarding a patient’s wish for AS on the one hand, and the determination to offer help and prevent harm by practicing suicide prevention on the other. Given the legal framework lacking specific norms for the practice of RTDS, orientation is sought in ethical guidelines. The comparison between the previous and newly revised guideline of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences reveals, in regard to AS, a shift from the medical criterion, end of life is near, to a patient rights focus, i.e., decisional capacity, consistent with the law. Future experience will show whether and how this change will be integrated into clinical practice. In this process, institutional ethics policies may—in addition to the law, national guidelines, or medical standards—be helpful in addressing conflicting duties at the bedside. The article offers an interdisciplinary theoretical reflection with practical illustration.

Language: en


Swiss right-to-die societies; assisted suicide; ethics policy; ethics support; health professional; law; prevention; suicide


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