Founder of Swiss assisted suicide organisation on trial for profiteering from his clients
The founder of one of Switzerland’s best known assisted suicide organisations went on trial on Friday on charges of profiteering from patients and exploiting their suffering for his own benefit.
Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, is accused of arranging the assisted suicide of one German woman because she left the organisation 100,000 Swiss francs (£74,000) in her will.
He is also accused of overcharging a mother and daughter by around 11,000 Swiss francs (£8,000) to arrange their suicide.
Mr Minelli denied the charges against him and told the court they were “inconsistent and absurd”.
The case comes a week after the British-Australian scientist David Goodall made international headlines when he travelled to Switzerland to end his life at the age of 104. Mr Goodall used the services of Life Cycle, a rival assisted suicide clinic which is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Assisted suicide is permitted in Switzerland but it is illegal to encourage or help someone take their own life for “self-serving motives”. This is considered to include charging more than the standard rate.
The case against Mr Minelli is the first time the laws have been tested in court. Dignitas is one of the best known assisted suicide organisations in the world and campaigns actively to change the law on euthanasia in other countries, including the UK.
Earlier this month it accused British MPs of “ignorance, irresponsibility and hypocrisy” for refusing to legalise assisted suicide in the UK.
About | Dignitas
Dignitas does not carry out assisted suicides itself but arranges for independent Swiss doctors to provide them for its clients.
The 85-year-old Mr Minelli is accused of arranging the suicide of an 80-year-old German woman in 2003 despite the fact three Swiss doctors had refused to carry it out on the grounds that it was unethical.
Although the woman was distressed she was not terminally ill, prosecutors said. Mr Minelli found a fourth doctor who was prepared to prescribe a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.
Prosecutors alleged Mr Minelli stood to gain from her death as she had left Dignitas 100,000 Swiss francs in her will.
He had not honoured her request to have her ashes buried beside her husband in Germany, but had disposed of them in lake Zurich, prosecutors alleged.
He is also accused of charging a German mother and daughter around 11,000 Swiss francs (£8,000) each to arrange their suicides — twice the going rate.
The 85-year-old mother and her 55-year-old daughter agreed to the excessive charges because they were desperate, prosecutors argued.
Mr Minelli vehemently rejected the charges on Friday. “This is not a normal criminal procedure,” he told the court. Prosecutors “simply wanted to put their noses” into Dignitas’ business and had “come up with a pretext”, he claimed.
Prosecutors’ estimates of the standard costs of providing assisted suicide were wrong, he argued. “The people who have come up with these figures don’t have the slightest idea of this work,” he said.
Prosecutors are seeking a fine of 7,000 Swiss francs (£5,200) and a further suspended fine of 65,000 francs (£48,000).
The trial continues.