People who suffer from depression or mental illness could be allowed to legally end their lives at a Swiss suicide clinic, if campaigners win a legal test case next month.
Ludwig Minelli, who runs the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, wants to extend his assisted suicide service to patients who are not terminally ill. The Swiss Supreme Court is to hear the case in October of a patient with bipolar disorder who wants the right to die at the clinic.
Mr Minelli told a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton that he wanted all people, including the mentally ill or depressed, to be given the "marvellous opportunity" to end their lives if they wanted.
Pro- and anti-euthanasia groups in Britain reacted with horror. Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of the Care Not Killing Alliance, a lobby group opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, said: "Dr Minelli's spine-chilling comments only highlight the dangers that would arise in Britain if we followed Switzerland's example and legalised assisted suicide.
"We would soon have our own Dr Minellis, encouraging sick and vulnerable people to end their own lives, if only to avoid becoming a burden on their families or the NHS. Assisted dying is a slippery slope to all the horrors of legalised killing and must be resisted at all costs."
Deborah Annetts, the chief executive of the pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying, said: "Any law in the UK must be based on choice for competent adults who are terminally ill. This is a fundamental safeguard. We are totally opposed to allowing people with chronic depression have help to die." Switzerland outlaws euthanasia but is tolerant on assisted suicide, in which doctors give patients the drugs to assist them with suicide. The policy has led to a wave of so-called "death tourism" to Switzerland. So far, 54 Britons have travelled to the Dignitas clinic to die, including four in the past six weeks.
Some relatives of those who have died at the clinic have been questioned by British police about aiding a suicide, although no one has been charged.
Mr Minelli told the meeting that people who were depressed or had mental health problems were often left without appropriate options and that his clinic offered counselling and care before allowing assisted suicide. He said: "We should say in principle that suicide is a marvellous possibility to human beings because they have cause to withdraw themselves from situations where it is unbearable for them."
He added: "These people do live in a sort of tunnel. They have just two exits which are both horrific. Either to go on until the so-called natural death with the pain and all the difficulty, or you try to make a lonely suicide which has this heavy risk. If we open up an emergency exit, the despair in the tunnel goes away and we have new opportunities."
Liberal Democrat policy is to support assisted suicide for the terminally ill. But Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP who called the meeting, said he did not support assisted suicide for people who were not terminally ill.
A Bill to allow assisted suicide for the terminally ill, promoted by Lord Joffe, was blocked in the House of Lords this year.Reuse content