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Assisted suicide 'may be option for depressed'

Colin Randall and Brendan Carlin / London Telegraph | September 21 2006

Britons suffering from severe depression may soon be able to opt for assisted suicide in a Swiss clinic, its founder claimed yesterday.

Ludwig Minelli, who established the Dignitas institute in Zurich eight years ago, said a case going before the Swiss supreme court next month involves a Swiss patient suffering from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, who wants the right to an assisted suicide.

Mr Minelli said a judgment in the man's favour would have implications across Europe.

advertisementThe Dignitas clinic, in reality a fourth-floor apartment, is already used by an increasing numbers of sick Britons who wish to end their lives but whose loved ones would face criminal prosecution, and up to 14 years in jail, if they helped them to do so in the UK.

The pressure group Dignity in Dying says 54 people from the UK have been helped in committing suicide there since 2003. A 55th is due to die there next week.

The case of Dr Anne Turner, 66, a retired family planning expert from Bath who died at Dignitas in January, may have contributed to the increase.

She was suffering from supranuclear palsy, an incurable degenerative illness, and spoke publicly about her decision before her death.

Relatives who help loved ones takes their own lives at Dignitas risk prosecution on their return to Britain, though no such case has yet been brought.

Mr Minelli told The Daily Telegraph there was no reason why mentally ill people should not be allowed to decide how and when to die.

Suggestions that removing the threat of criminal sanctions would "open the floodgates" and lead to more suicides among vulnerable people were false, he said.

"The evidence of eight-and-a-half years is that vulnerable people do not come to us to take their own lives."

Mr Minelli, who addressed a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats conference yesterday, added: "They are strong minded people, often highly educated, who have reached their own conclusions."

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