Exit extends assisted dying to elderly who are not terminally ill
A Swiss organisation that helps people take their own lives has voted to extend its services to elderly people who are not terminally ill.
The group Exit added "suicide due to old age" to their statutes at an annual general meeting at the weekend, allowing people suffering from psychological or physical problems associated with old age the choice to end their life.
Assisted dying is legal in Switzerland and technically even a healthy young person could use such services. But organisations involved in this work set their own internal requirements, which differ from group to group.
The move has been criticised by the Swiss Medical Association amid fears it will encourage suicide among the elderly. "It gives us cause for concern because it cannot be ruled out that elderly healthy people could come under pressure of taking their own life," association president Dr Jurg Schlup said.
But Exit said most people who would choose this option were already members of the organisation and had been looking into assisted dying for years.
"Our members told us to get active on this subject. It was ripe for a decision," Exit's vice-president, Bernhard Sutter, said.
"Assisted suicide is a lengthy process. Doctors must take tests and talk to patients for hours asking them to justify their motivations. Old patients feel they do not have the energy for all of this and it is also not so dignified."
The organisation confirmed that elderly people seeking their services would still have to go through comprehensive checks - but that medical tests would be less stringent than those required for younger people.
Despite some backlash, Sutter said the medical profession was becoming more understanding.
"Prescriptions for the [life-ending] medicine come most often from the family doctors," he said. "That shows that the medical profession is more understanding now of what it means to go on like this."