ZURICH (Reuters) - Voters in Zurich overwhemingly rejected on Sunday proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism” -- foreigners traveling to Switzerland to receive help ending their lives.
Only 15.5 percent of voters in the local referendum backed a ban on assisted suicide, while nearly 22 percent supported a ban on suicide tourism, final results showed. About 200 people commit assisted suicide each year in Zurich.
Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since 1941 if performed by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death. Euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon.
Many terminally ill foreigners -- particularly from Germany, France and Britain -- travel to Switzerland to commit suicide, taking advantage of the Swiss rules which are among the world’s most liberal.
But a rise in the number of foreigners seeking to end their lives in Switzerland, and a study showing that more and more people seeking assisted suicides in the country do not suffer from a terminal illness, have provoked heated debate.
The Swiss Evangelical People’s Party, which had supported the bans, said it regretted the outcome but was pleased it had prompted so much discussion.
“We now need to make sure that assisted suicide isn’t just extended without limit and also that suicide tourism with foreigners is critically monitored,” it said in a statement.
The Swiss government has said it is looking to change the law on assisted suicide to make sure it was used only as a last resort by the terminally ill, and to limit “suicide tourism.”
Right-to-die group Exit has agreed rules to govern assisted suicide with prosecutors in Zurich in the hope they might eventually form the basis of national regulation.
Foreigners are not explicitly excluded under the new rules, but a Swiss doctor who prescribes the deadly anesthetic must have met the person twice over a period of time to be sure of their wishes.
Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Matthew Jones