‘No dignity at Dignitas’, reveals former worker

A former employee of Swiss suicide facility Dignitas has spoken out after the recent double suicide of British couple Sir Edward and Lady Joan Downes.

In reality the Dignitas ‘clinic’ is “just one person who has found a way to make a lot of money out of death and the fear of it”, nurse Soraya Wernli told The Sunday Times this weekend.

“There is nothing dignified or uplifting about it”, added Mrs Wernli, whose two and half years at the facility left her concerned that people were committing suicide because they were depressed or felt burdensome.

Earlier this month Sir Edward and Lady Joan Downes became the latest Britons to commit suicide at the facility.

Lady Joan, 74, had been suffering from terminal cancer. Her 85-year-old husband Sir Edward had been losing his sight and hearing, but was not terminally ill.

This is not the first time Dignitas has assisted with double suicides where one person is not terminally ill. Mrs Wernli believes the practice should not be permitted because the healthy partner could be coerced into dying.

She told the paper how Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, would authorise double suicides behind her back and use other employees to carry them out because of her objections.

She described how she once convinced a depressed young man on the brink of committing suicide to change his mind.

“Minelli was cross with me for interfering”, she said.

“He made the boy pay €200 for the prescription. He was punished for wanting to live.”

Swiss law is meant to slow the process of assisted suicide by requiring two doctor interviews.

But Mrs Wernli says: “People often are dead just four hours after arriving at the airport. It’s like a conveyer belt.”

In January 2008 Daniel Gall accompanied his terminally ill sister and healthy brother-in-law to a Dignitas facility.

Dignitas “was a sinister place with bare walls and shabby furniture, without even the comfort of a hospital room”, Mr Gall writes of his experience in a new book.

Mr Gall described one employee as “a whisky-swilling former goatherd” and another as “a grumpy former schoolteacher who sat smoking one cigarette after another.”

Mr Gall said he felt sickened when his sister’s ashes turned up in the post after three weeks.

The Sunday Times reports that the “remains of hundreds of other customers were unceremoniously dumped in Lake Zurich, prompting an official warning from sanitation officials”.

Mrs Wernli notes that Dignitas often has to change locations as neighbours frequently complain about the ambulances and body bags. Dignitas has also assisted with suicides in camper vans and cars.

Several of the 115 Britons who have so far committed suicide at the Dignitas facility were suffering from “treatable” conditions, it was revealed last month.

A bid to weaken the UK law on assisted suicide was recently voted down in the House of Lords. Peers voted 194 to 141 against Lord Falconer’s amendment which sought to make it legal to help someone travel overseas to commit suicide. Lord Falconer referred to the Dignitas facility during debates on the issue.

Last month the Swiss Parliament considered changing the law on assisted suicide. The proposal will tighten restrictions on who could access assisted suicide, and plans to outlaw the practice altogether will also be considered.