Switzerland’s highest court has banned the suicide clinic Dignitas from stockpiling lethal drugs used to end the lives of its clients.
Currently Dignitas staff can only offer natrium-pentobarbital when it has been prescribed by a doctor who has seen the patient twice.
Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli insisted he needed to keep stocks of the lethal barbiturate in case of an “emergency”, such as patients spilling or vomiting their dose as they committed suicide.
Critics claimed that Dignitas merely wanted to avoid the need for clients to consult a doctor.
The Swiss Federal Court ruled that only national and international organisations were permitted to store natrium-pentobarbital for emergency use, and only in order to preserve life.
The court explained that this excluded Dignitas because it is a private organisation and would be stockpiling the drug in order to take life.
The Court’s ruling was welcomed by the National Hospice Foundation in Germany, one of Dignitas’ fiercest critics.
Spokesman Eugen Brych said: “The fact that the court does not trust it to procure these drugs and store them must set back his plans to kill healthy people.
“This shameless money-making business preys on human suffering.”
Mr Minelli prompted outrage earlier this month when he called suicide a “marvellous possibility” and said he wants Dignitas to help healthy people and the mentally ill to die.
Speaking in a BBC interview, Mr Minelli said: “I say suicide is a marvellous possibility given to a human being.”
He added: “Suicide is a very good possibility to escape a situation which you can’t alter.”
Mr Minelli admitted that Dignitas has helped psychiatric patients die, and that Swiss psychiatrists are refusing to co-operate with the clinic.
A study by Zurich University found that more than one fifth of those who die at Dignitas are not terminally ill.
Mr Minelli, who is also a human rights lawyer,has said he intends to test the boundaries of the Swiss law.
Dignitas’ attitude to couples and the mentally ill has been the subject of serious accusations from a former employee.
Soraya Wernli alleges Mr Minelli dismissed depression as an “irreversible illness”, and he remains under investigation by the Swiss police over claims of exploiting patients for money.
Dignitas is believed to have helped more than 100 Britons to kill themselves.
Even groups campaigning to have assisted suicide legalised in the UK have distanced themselves from Dignitas and its outspoken founder.
Switzerland’s main medical ethics commission is currently reviewing the law on assisted suicide amid calls for tougher regulations.
A long list of recommendations drawn up by the commission includes longer assessments, and tougher appraisals of psychiatric patients wishing to kill themselves and couples in apparent suicide pacts.
The commission’s President, Christoph Rehman Sutter, said: “We have this very strange situation of having a practice without regulation. There is no regulation at the moment.”