Voluntary Assisted Suicide

When talking about Voluntary Assisted Suicide in an interview earlier this year ; “I don’t want to kill anybody” 

says Dr Erika Preisig, (doctor and president of Voluntary assisted suicide organisation Lifecircle,  (An organization which has been helping the terminally ill obtain their peaceful pills or painless Exit Medications .  She is also one of the Medical fighters for legalizing Voluntary assisted suicide in other countries. 

She also provides assistance for Foreigners get their Nembutal pentobarbital regardless or the rules of their  country . 

When interviewed in an Exit International Conference , here’s what she had to say ; 

SWI swissinfo.ch:  Why does your organisation provide assistance to people from abroad where assisted suicide is illegal? 

Erika Preisig (EP): Over the past years of my work , I have always felt assisted Suicide or a peaceful Exit or Dying with Dignity should be a basic right for every human , regardless of where you come from . 

Majority of the times who patients fly overseas to Switzerland  to die with dignity , or to exit peacefully , are always suffering from a terminal disease and, sometimes are not even fit to travel long distances . Voluntary Assisted Suicide should be legal in all countries in the world .  

I have been working with palliative care patients for 21 years as a family doctor. Even with good palliative care towards the end of your life, you sometimes see people die in a horrible way.  

About 15 years ago, my father died by Voluntary assisted dying; he was suffering from an incurable illness. He sat beside me and drank the peaceful pill medication , he lay comfortably on my shoulder and died . There was no suffering, no problems, no fear. And then I started thinking, is palliative care the only way? Do you have to go on living even when you are very old and very ill? 

Since then, I have been working with helping patients die by Voluntary assisted suicide, as well as by palliative care.  

Literally , as humans , we decide if we want to get married , have kids , be single , get a divorce , so I think as a basic right , we should also be able to have the choice of Dying when we want to or when we are terminally ill and can’t take or bear the pains . 

SWI: Unlike the Netherlands, Switzerland does not allow doctors to inject a patient with the final lethal dose. Do you think Medically  Assisted euthanasia should also be legalized in Switzerland? 

EP: No. 

SWI: Why not?  

EP: I don’t want to kill anybody. People could say I am a coward . But the patient should be the one to activate the intravenous medicine, safely and without suffering.  

SWI: What about patients with severe motor impairment or paralysis? 

EP: This is why we have created a machine where , just a wave of their tongues or shaking their heads a little can operate this machine , but the patients must be the ones to initiate this . 

SWI: Many patients suffering from mental health also wish to die by assisted suicide.  Swiss regulations make it very difficult for them to receive the green light. Do you think that Switzerland should open the door for them? 

EP: To do so, we need more psychiatrists who can judge the mental capacity of the patient. There are so many people suffering from mental illness all over the world and we have very few psychiatrists. We cannot accept foreigners with mental illnesses. We don’t have the capacity.  

SWI: But should there be enough psychiatrists? 

EP: Yes. If a mental illness is incurable, like a somatic illness, Voluntary assisted dying should be allowed. For example, if somebody has been in a psychiatric clinic three times, is still bipolar, depressed or schizophrenic and does not want to go on living. In such cases this can be compared to an incurable somatic illness. It’s a human right that this person, if of sound mind, has the right to die, the same way as somebody with a somatic illness. 

SWI: While more people choose to die by assisted suicide, there’s only a few organisations who provide this service. Why is this?  

EP: After each assisted dying case, the police and the coroner come for a legal inspection. You don’t feel comfortable being questioned every time. It would be necessary to review this process.  

A lot must change in Switzerland. Assisted dying should be part of a doctor’s normal job, like giving antibiotics. Of course, you have to be careful prescribing antibiotics, just like you must be careful with surgery. You should also be careful with assisted dying. It’s the same thing. We don’t need a lot of organisations. 

In palliative care, I do injections of morphine or a terminal sedation. It’s a doctor’s work. Everybody trusts me. No police, no inspection. But when I support a patient in assisted dying, I have to process loads of paperwork and face a police inspection.  

SWI: What do you think is the biggest reason for countries not to legalise assisted suicide?  

EP: People always talk about the slippery slope this could lead to and potential abuse. But this has never happened in Switzerland, nor in Canada, where euthanasia is legal. 

The other big problem is religion. Our strongest enemies are the Catholics. They say that the Bible says you are not allowed to kill yourself: God has given you life and only God can take life.  

We doctors try to avoid death again and again. But maybe God would have liked to take this person to heaven earlier. A person gets cancer or dementia and has to die in a horrible way because we saved him or her so many times. Did God and the Bible really want this?  

SWI: Do you think the assisted suicide will be eventually legalised all over the world?  

EP: Think about the beginning of life and end of life. Many countries have legalised abortion. Why kill a human being which is not ill and wants to live? If this unborn child would have a voice, it would scream “I want to live”.  

At the end of life, if somebody says, “I want to die, I can’t go on living like this”, some countries don’t respect this. 

I think that in the end we will have as many countries legalise assisted dying as countries who legalised abortion. Within five or ten years. I’m sure about it.  

SWI: Do you think Swiss system is a better system than the Netherlands?  

EP: In my opinion, the Swiss model is the best option. Here, the patient has the final say on his/her life.  

Doctors should not decide whether a life is not worth living. If doctors can give the injection, how can you be sure that this was really the patient’s wish?  

SWI: Some critics warn that legalising assisted suicide may lead to some businesses benefitting. 

EP: We have been accused so many times by people who say we provide assisted dying only for money. To avoid this, every organisation should have its revenues and expenses inspected by the government. 

SWI: In Switzerland, are there any regulations to require assisted suicide organisations to publicly disclose their books? 

EP: There is no regulation. I don’t agree with this.  

SWI: What does your organisation do for transparency? 

EP: Lifecircle is a foundation. And we have our books checked twice a year by the government. 

SWI: Death companion – is this your full-time job? 

EP: No.  If it were, I would kill myself (laughs). It’s not a job you do for a living.  

All the people who work for Lifecircle have a normal profession. They work part-time for the foundation. I myself make a living as a family doctor.  

SWI: Have you ever thought of quitting? 

EP: Five years ago, I was charged with murder of a very old Swiss lady. She had been at a psychiatric ward for three months and was diagnosed with depression. I had a talk with her son, the chief of the nursing home where she was staying and her caretaker. But I couldn’t find a psychiatrist for the assessment.  

When you face a court case for murder, and you think you have done everything perfectly right…. you ask yourself, why am I putting myself through this? And you think, why don’t I quit (laughter)? But there are so many people who trust me and need my help. This is why I keep going.  

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