Dignitas Nurse: ashes of 50 Brits dumped in lake

The human ashes of up to 50 Britons who died at a Swiss assisted suicide facility were dumped in nearby Lake Zurich, a former employee claims.

Last month divers accidentally discovered the grim secret and recovered dozens of urns from the bottom of the lake.

Now former Dignitas nurse, Soraya Wernli, claims there could be 300 urns hidden beneath the cold waters – 50 of them holding the ashes of Brits who ended their lives at the facility.

Last wishes

Several patients had made clear that they wished to be buried alongside relatives in Britain, but instead the urns were dumped in Lake Zurich in order to cut costs, claimed Mrs Wernli.

“The terrible thing is that people’s last wishes weren’t respected”, said the former employee. “Women wanted to be buried next to their husbands, but instead Dignitas threw their ashes in the lake”.

Mrs Wernli, speaking from her Swiss home over the weekend, described how she watched Dignitas founder, Ludwig Minelli ditch a dozen urns in 2003.


She claimed Mr Minelli stored the urns in his cellar alongside his wine collection and wheelchairs that had belonged to deceased clients.

Mrs Wernli, who worked at the facility for three years, recalled how one morning at 7am she accompanied Mr Minelli to the lake with the dozen urns in his car.

“The urns were from the Nordheim crematorium in Zurich,” she said.

“Minelli used a hammer and screwdriver to prise off the nameplate on each urn.

“Then he pushed the lid off completely and put the urn in the water before letting it sink.


“Sometimes ashes spilt out before the urn sank.”

Shocked, Mrs Wernli said she asked Mr Minelli what he was doing. “No one notices,” he was said to have replied, adding that the clay urns would eventually dissolve in the water.

Mrs Wernli recalled: “For him it was just ashes and no longer a person. It was disgusting — there was none of the dignity you’d expect from a funeral.”

Suicide tourism

Around 140 Britons have ended their lives at Dignitas since 1998.

Britons form the second biggest foreign client-base for Dignitas after the Germans.

The step-daughter of a German patient who suffered from arthritis and depression said her step-mother “had always said she wanted to be buried in the cemetery at Kiel [in northern Germany] next to her husband.”

But according to a certificate signed by Mr Minelli and given to the step-daughter, her step-mother’s remains were “placed under the protection of Lake Zurich”.

Mr Minelli is said to have declined to comment.

According to press reports, in March Mr Minelli admitted in an interview with The Atlantic, a US magazine, that when he had enough urns to fill his car he drove to a quiet spot on Lake Zurich and tossed them into the water.


Last month’s discovery of a dozen urns at the bottom of Lake Zurich prompted fury amongst local officials.

Max Baumgartner, mayor of Zurich, said: “I am furious. In particular the large number of urns left me really shocked. It looks like they have been systematically dumping them here.”

And Nicolas Mori, a spokesman for the Zurich church, said: “If burials on the water are conducted on a commercial basis and any promised ceremony is not carried out – that is just completely unacceptable.

“It is like getting rid of the rubbish, just getting it out of sight and out of mind, and we condemn it totally.”

Under Swiss Law Mr Minelli could face up to three years in jail and a £3,000 fine for performing the unauthorised burials.

A spokesman for the Swiss Environment Agency has confirmed that the urns are now being kept “in a place respecting their dignity”.


The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, released guidance for England and Wales in February which states that people who assist a suicide are unlikely to be prosecuted if they are “motivated by compassion”.

However, critics have expressed concern about the new guidance.

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, said: “Anyone who takes part in an assisted suicide is going to claim they were acting out of compassion.

“The only witness who really knows will be dead.”

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