Organisations involved in assisted suicide help women die more frequently than men. In addition, those living alone, the divorced and well-educated people make above-average use of assisted suicide. This has been demonstrated by a study supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
In Switzerland, it is legal to assist suicide for altruistic reasons. Doctors in this country are permitted to support patients for whom a cure is not available and whose suffering is unbearable. Opponents of assisted suicide fear that over time the threshold could be lowered and vulnerable people could even be forced to bring their life to an end in this way. Researchers led by Matthias Egger at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern have now investigated whether these fears are supported by the data.
The right-to-die organisations Exit Deutsche Schweiz, Exit Suisse Romande and Dignitas provided the Swiss Federal Statistical Office with anonymised data on a total of 1,301 cases of assisted suicide provided by the organisations to Swiss residents between 2003 and 2008. The researchers linked the information to data from the Swiss National Cohort - a cohort study of the Swiss population that is based on anonymised census data. These links produced information including the place of residence of the people concerned, their level of education, whether they lived alone and whether they had children.
The study, which has just been published (*), showed that more women than men (740 women compared with 561 men) die from assisted suicide. The proportion of women is also higher when the fact that there are more older women than older men is taken into account. People living alone and those who are divorced are also more likely to seek an assisted suicide than married and socially integrated persons. Younger people with children seek out suicide assistance less frequently than those who have no children; although the existence of children appears not to offer any protection among older people. "The results indicate that there could well be vulnerable groups," says Matthias Egger. "Social isolation and loneliness are known to be risk factors for suicide, and this might also be the case for assisted suicide."
In wealthy residential areas