Section 17


What is the name for the assisted suicide services available in Switzerland?

Historically, some of the Swiss organisations involved have not liked the word “suicide” at all.   It has overtones of criminality, is still regarded as a sin by many religious faiths and means different things in different languages.   In the UK “assisted suicide” is the wording used, in rather derogatory terms, by those who oppose the campaigning efforts of Dignity and Dying and My Death My Decision.   “Assisted Suicide” or, rather, “accompanied suicide” or “physician-supported accompanied suicide” has always been used by Dignitas itself to describe its work.   Lifecircle, too, may also be coming round to that wording – because it is, quite simply, the way the rest of the world describes it.

The term used in Canada, where it is legal, is “Medical Assistance In Dying” (MAID).   To be accurate, however, a MAID includes not only self-administering the lethal medication, as in Switzerland, but also doctor-administered. It needs a doctor to be present.   This is indeed the case in Canada, at Lifecircle and at Pegasos.   But only exceptionally at Dignitas.

“Medically Assisted Rational Suicide” (MARS) was suggested by Colin Brewer and Michael Irwin in their book “I’ll See Myself Out Thank You”, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and hasn’t caught on.   “Voluntary Self-Administered Death” has occasionally found its way into the debate – under the acronym “v.sad”.   Unsurprisingly, and happily, this hasn’t caught on either.

So, wherever necessary, “Assisted Death” has generally been used in this Guide.

We have also sought to refer to the Swiss organisations as “Centres” or “Organisations” rather than “Clinics”.  

The latter makes them sound like places where people in white coats go round waving hypodermics in the air.   Or else private hospitals for surgical enhancements.   Dignitas, Lifecircle, Pegasos and EX International are not like that.   All are also not-for-profit organisations working for a relatively idealistic cause. Therefore none of them likes being referred to as a “clinic”, a “business”, a “company” or a “venture”.

And what about the users of the service ?  

Are they “patients”, “customers”, “clients”, “fee-payers” or what ?   Dignitas and Lifecircle like to refer to themas “members”.   Pegasos, which doesn’t have membership as such, prefers “supporters”.   All in all, you can’t go wrong with just “people”.

Finally, the Swiss law that permits Assisted Suicide does insist that such a death must be “self-administered”.   In other words, you must be able to drink, use a straw or twiddle a valve on a cannula.   If you can’t, you’ve left to too late.