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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C Silvan Luley of Dignitas appears before the Oireachtas Committee
Dying with dignity

12 Irish people have travelled to Switzerland to medically end their lives since 2003

Assisted dying has been legal in Switzerland since 1942.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 26th 2023, 1:42 PM

SWISS ORGANISATION DIGNITAS has told a Dáil committee that 12 Irish people have travelled to the country to avail of assisted dying there in the last 20 years.

The group, which provides “physician-supported accompanied suicide” to its members in Switzerland, appeared at the Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying this morning.

It called for the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying in Ireland, claiming that it would “soothe suffering” and improve quality of life among certain patients here.

The committee is currently examining whether to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws in Ireland, following the passage of a bill tabled by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny in 2020. 

Dignitas member Silvan Luley told TDs this morning that its Irish membership grew from 57 to 80 between 2020 and last year, and that 12 people have travelled to Switzerland to end their lives since 2003, most recently in 2020.

“Voluntary assisted dying should be legalised as a choice for the Irish alongside other options to soothe suffering and improving quality of life, may it be palliative care, hospice work, suicide attempt prevention, good care in old age, and more,” Luley said.

He explained that the system in Switzerland allows groups like Dignitas and doctors to care for individuals who wish to determine the time and manner of how “their suffering and life ends”.

Assisted dying has been allowed since 1942 in Switzerland, which was the first country in the world to legalise such a system. 

Under Swiss law, any patient may voluntarily decide to be prescribed with drugs that can kill them, but they must take an active role in administering the drugs themselves.

It is not legal for a second person to administer the lethal drugs (the practice known as ‘euthanasia’). However, non-residents may travel to Switzerland to avail of assisted dying.

Luley told TDs that the introduction of assisted dying in Ireland would give patients “what everyone deserves: a legal way to exercise the human right of freedom of choice on all options of professional care to soothe suffering and end life, at their home”.

“It’s not about making use of this option right away but having an emergency exit door which provides emotional relief and can prevent people from having to use rough methods,” he said.

He claimed that without such a system, some people may choose to end their lives using more violent means, and that the strength of a society was measured how it deals with treating its sickest.

“In my 20 years of working with Dignitas - this might sound strange to you – I’ve never seen somebody who wants to die,” he said.

“The people who come to Dignitas, they don’t want to die; [but] they don’t want to continue living in a situation that they feel does not match their quality of life from their personal perspective.”

The committee also heard from Dutch healthcare ethics expert Professor Theo Boer, who raised concerns about the expansion of euthanasia in the Netherlands, where the practice has been legal since 2002.

Boer told the committee that euthanasia has made ageing and dying “a task to be managed” and that euthanasia has “sky-rocketed” in the Netherlands in recent years.

“The legalisation of euthanasia has done much more than just providing some citizens the liberty to take a way out,” he said.

“It turned the whole landscape of dying, including our view of illness, suffering, ageing, and care-dependence upside down.”

He said that assisted deaths account for 15% to 20% of all deaths in some parts of the Netherlands, and claimed the reason why the national average is still at 5.2% is because some rural areas have an average of around 2% of assisted deaths.

Boer also suggested that the expansion of euthanasia in the Netherlands has led to increased pressure on patients to consider it as an option.

“I don’t think there’s very much family pressure there, but there is a societal pressure,” he said.

“I compare it to flying. I mean, everyone is flying. Even if you don’t fly, you know that you can fly and take an airplane. In the same sense there is this general societal pressure.”

He said he was worried that society was getting to a stage “in which death is increasingly seen as a remedy against all kinds of unbearable suffering”.

However, Boer said that although he did not believe that Ireland should legalise assisted dying, he suggested the practice should not be criminalised if it could be proven that the patient freely chose to avail of it.

He also said that doctors could have a role in such a system by performing euthanasia to ensure the death is carried out in a way that is medically and professionally sound.

If you need to talk, support is available:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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