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Suicide clinic to face inquiry over fake documents
A SWISS organisation that helps the terminally ill to die is being investigated for administering lethal drugs to a German suicide tourist after she forged papers to say that she was dying. The doctor who administered the cocktail subsequently killed himself.

Dignitas, the controversial euthanasia group that has assisted the suicides of more than 30 British people from its base in Zurich, helped the 69-year-old German woman in May by arranging for a doctor who was willing to prescribe her a lethal dose of the drug sodium pentobarbital.

The Times


It did so after she provided a false report from her GP in Augsburg, indicating that she was terminally ill with cirrhosis of the liver.

The German GP said that he had no idea what she was really going to do with the certificate.

Hans-Jürgen Kolb, the public prosecutor of Augsburg, said: “We are investigating the German doctor for issuing false documents and negligent bodily harm, and the Dignitas doctor in Switzerland for causing death through negligence.

“We are co-operating with the Swiss authorities. Post mortem reports have already shown that she was not suffering from irreversible liver damage, and if we find that her mental health was in doubt the charges could be more serious.”

Ludwig Minelli, of Dignitas, denied that the organisation had done anything wrong. “The doctor’s report that I was given indicated the woman was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver as well as hepatitis. Every person in Europe has the right to choose to die, even if they are not terminally ill,” he said.

The euthanasia group has helped 453 patients from across Europe since it was founded in 1998. Helping the terminally ill to take their own lives by providing the necessary drugs is legal in Switzerland, but of the registered euthanasia organisations, only Dignitas offers its services to foreign citizens.

The group has been widely criticised in Switzerland for promoting suicide tourism, but has actively promoted itself abroad, even opening an office in Germany last month. In the past, opponents of the group have described how customers were arriving in Zurich, and on the same evening their bodies were being wheeled into the mortuary. The case of the German woman has further increased pressure for Dignitas to be closed down.

Andreas Brunner, the senior public prosecutor in Zurich, said that the growing number of foreigners who were signing up for assisted suicide in Switzerland was creating a bad image for the country.

He said: “Switzerland is one of the only countries in Europe to have such liberal laws on euthanasia. There is probably a good reason why other nations do not have such a law, and those countries’ citizens should not be allowed to travel abroad for something that is illegal in their own country. Before long the only reputation Switzerland will have is as a country to come to die in.”

Elisabeth Heister-Neumann, the regional justice minister for Lower Saxony, accused Mr Minelli of being driven by financial motives. “Making poisonous cocktails available has deviated into pure business, and medical reports are being misused as an excuse,” she said.

But Mr Minelli said: “Members’ fees and any donations that are made cover the costs of running the organisation and providing care and counselling for those who need it.

“We also put money into developing palliative care methods. We do not profit from it as individuals.”


  • Ludwig Minelli, a lawyer and journalist, founded Dignitas, a non-profit organisation, in 1998. It costs £50 to join, plus an annual fee of £25
  • A member who desires suicide must apply in writing, proving illness and pain, with a doctor’s proof and prognosis 
  •  37 Britons have died with the aid of Dignitas in the past three years 
  • Assisted suicide was legalised in Switzerland in 1942