Amongst the latest, and ever-changing, pathways of death and dying, “suicide tourism” presents distinctive ethical, legal and practical challenges. The international media report that citizens from across the world are travelling or seeking to travel to Switzerland, where they hope to be helped to die. In this paper I aim to explore three issues associated with this phenomenon: how to define “suicide tourism” and “assisted suicide tourism”, in which the suicidal individual is helped to travel to take up the option of assisted dying; the (il)legality of assisted suicide tourism, particularly in the English legal system where there has been considerable recent activity; and the ethical dimensions of the practice. I will suggest that the suicide tourist—and specifically any accomplice thereof—risks springing a legal trap, but that there is good reason to prefer a more tolerant policy, premised on compromise and ethical pluralism.
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Neither of these forms of travel can be dismissed as wholly unrealistic (e.g. Pennings 2002; Huxtable 2007, 56), although there is another form which looks much more remote: the situation in which someone seeks to move from a permissive to a prohibitive jurisdiction (provided there is someone in the latter jurisdiction willing, covertly, to help). The distinct questions raised by these sorts of travel are unfortunately beyond the scope of this paper.
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In this regard it will be essential to monitor developments in relation to Dignitas, as there have been reports of investigations into profit-making (Sawer 2009) plus more general calls for tighter regulation of the assistance offered and greater transparency in the organisation’s activities (Boyes 2008).
There is undoubtedly more to say here, not least because the option does still seem to be limited to e.g. those who are still sufficiently well to travel and arguably also to those who can draw on help to travel. There will always be people who will lose (or miss) out in some way, particularly under a policy premised on compromise, but (for now) I will leave it to others to assess whether this is appropriate or just.
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Thanks to Genevieve Liveley, Lois Bibbings, James Kennedy and participants at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine (Bristol) seminar series for helping me to develop my arguments.
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Huxtable, R. The Suicide Tourist Trap: Compromise Across Boundaries. Bioethical Inquiry 6, 327–336 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-009-9170-5
- Assisted suicide
- Health tourism