Today’s Opinion: Assisted suicide

POSTED: 05/16/11 12:26 PM

Switzerland is an interesting country. It produces tennis pro Roger Federer, the Swiss army knife and watches that are so cute that retailers in St. Maarten sell illegal copies of them by the truck load. Did we mention the cheese and the banks?
But there is more to Switzerland. Quietly, the country is beating the euthanasia-legislation from countries like the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium and the American state of Oregon. Since 1941 it is legal in Switzerland to help somebody commit suicide. That assistant does not have to be a physician; it could be anybody. The only condition is that the assistant has no vested interest in the death of the man or woman he or she is helping to enter the next world.
All this went unnoticed – at least to the eye of the world – for quite some time. But in the meantime the word spread, and guess what: the Swiss legislation resulted in what one could call suicide-tourism.
Initially, terminally ill people from surrounding countries like Germany, France and Great Britain travelled to Switzerland for a little help from their friends, but during the past couple of years the country has seen a sharp increase in suicide-tourists – people who are not terminally ill at all, but who are just fed up with living any longer.
And since the Swiss allow assisted suicide by non-physicians, we imagine that a nice little cottage industry resulted from this opportunity offered by the law, though we’ve never seen pictures of businesses that advertised this service. Ten percent discount on assisted suicide for Father’s Day. Call our dedicated staff now!
The Swiss government realized that all this is going a bit too far, so it organized a referendum whereby the population had the opportunity to give its opinion about assisted suicide and suicide-tourism. Yesterday it seemed that an astonishing 80 percent of the Swiss had voted against a ban on assisted suicide and suicide-tourism as it is now.
The government wanted to adjust the legislation and make assisted suicide only legal as a means of last resort for terminally ill people. At the same time, the government wants to put a stop to suicide-tourism, but it seems that the Swiss are determined to keep the rights they have had (enjoyed seems a bit too sarcastic a word to use here) for seventy years.
The new legislation, now doomed by the referendum’s result, would not have prohibited foreigners with a death wish to die in Switzerland, but it would have demanded that they consult a local physician at least twice before letting someone pull the plug on their earthly existence.
This makes us wonder how the population in St. Maarten thinks about this subject. The Swiss have made it clear that people have the right to end their own life. For a population with a strong religious background that is obviously not a tenable position.
But still, the times they are a’changin. Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire will legislate euthanasia, same sex marriage and abortion soon, and Saba is right on our doorstep.
Will these changes come to St. Maarten sooner or later as well? We think it will take a very long time before these issues even become a point of discussion. Changes like this, especially assisted suicide, are usually driven by what people do in practice, not by the agenda of any political party.
Assisted suicide in back rooms without the backing of proper legislation are undesirable; it would open the door for popping off rich old family members – and that would obviously amount to murder. For the time being, people with a death wish in St. Maarten ought to put their trust in the Swiss and put some money aside for a one-way ticket so that they are able to travel when they think the time is right.

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