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November 8, 2020

Dying in Switzerland during COVID-19

This week’s news has concerned an anonymous 45 year old British woman (Ms Anon) who went public with her plight to die.

According to the media reports, her story went like this.

She had gone from working in a senior position in the NHS (National Health Service). But then got the diagnosis so many women dread: breast cancer.

With a terminal diagnosis, Ms Anon, was opting for Switzerland. A trip to Zurich, to Dignitas to be specific.

The media reports made 3-4 main points.

We applied the Exit Fact Checker to each of them to see where the truth lies!

  1. Right to die laws in the UK are archaic!  TRUE
  2. If she was going to go to Switzerland she had to go before lockdown POSSIBLY TRUE THEN BUT NOT TRUE NOW
  3. She got a personal exemption for travel from the Swiss Government FALSE
  4. She had to leave family behind FALSE

Let’s take each in turn.

UK Right to Die Laws are Archaic

The most recent attempts to change the law in the UK, concern the Assisted Dying Bills of Labor Lord Charlie Falconer (2014) and then MP for Wolverhampton South West, Rob Marris (2015).

The laws proposed were strict medical models.

Terminally ill, no dementia (or other mental illness), approved by 2 doctors. No Ifs & no buts.

Neither Bills produced a change in the law in the UK.

Leaving the UK in Lockdown for a VAD in Switzerland

Until the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock clarified the status of travel for a VAD during the British lockdown, this point was perhaps not clear.

It is now obvious that a one-way trip to Switzerland for an assisted suicide constitutes a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home.

Personal Exemptions to Enter Switzerland

During the pandemic, groups such as Pegasos Swiss Association have been operating quietly and consistently, working with the Swiss Authorities to allow clients into the country for the purpose of a Voluntary Assisted Death.

Pegasos has achieved this streamlined operation via their quiet professionalism, and in the context of their excellent relations with the Swiss Government.

Pegasos has never needed to enter into their own fanfare. They have no need for sensational headlines, believing instead that quietly-but-surely is the best way to conduct their VAD service at this time of great need.

So-called ‘Personal Exemptions’ have never been required if the person coming to Switzerland is a member of a well-administered, professional organisation such as Pegasos Swiss Association.

Leaving Family Behind

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pegasos Swiss Association has continued to welcome the family and loved ones of the person receiving the VAD at their clinic outside of Basel.

No one has needed to leave their family behind, just because of COVID-19

The Swiss Government recognises that a person coming to their country for a VAD should be supported by those they love. This is the only compassionate thing to do.

It is nothing short of misleading to suggest that a person must have a VAD alone in Switzerland. The experience of Pegasos shows that this is simply not the case.

In Conclusion

This blog post has been written to provide correct, factual reporting on the current state of play of dying in Switzerland.

While it is to be expected that the media can get important points wrong, the type of scare-mongering put out by Dying with Dignity UK, a lobby group who should know better, is both disappointing and destructive.

Anyone desperate enough so as to be interested in going to Switzerland to die, should not be used as a political pawn in a group’s advocacy campaigning.

There is more to the promotion of the right to die issue than the tabloid headline. There is the ethical and moral obligation to push and report the facts as they stand. Not as some shameful, worse case scenario, peddled only to an organisation’s personal brand profile.

People’s lives (and deaths) are at stake.