Suicide on Demand for the Healthy; Fury as Dignitas Boss Talks of 'The Right' to an Assisted Death

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Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent

THE head of the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland declared yesterday that he believed assisted suicide should be available 'on demand'.

Ludwig Minelli, whose organisation has supervised the deaths of 100 Britons, said suicide was not just for those already dying but 'a marvellous possibility given to a human being'.

The human rights lawyer said there were no limits on who might be assisted to die, as long as they had the mental capacity to make the choice.

'It is without conditions,' he said. 'A human right is without any conditions except capacity.' Mr Minelli dismissed concerns that assisted suicide should be reserved for the terminally ill as 'a British obsession' and called on Britain to legalise suicide.

He told BBC Radio 4 that the UK could even save money by allowing suicide.

'For every 50 suicide attempts we have one suicide and the others are failing, with huge costs for the National Health Service,' he said. 'In many many cases they are terribly hurt afterwards, sometimes you have to put them in institutions for 50 years, very costly.' But, despite his claim that mental capacity was a key factor in allowing death at Dignitas, Mr Minelli said the organisation had assisted the death of those with mental health problems.

The admission that Dignitas is willing to kill those who are not already dying was immediately condemned by groups that have in the past supported it.

Dignity in Dying, which has campaigned for the right of British families to take terminally ill relatives to the clinic in Zurich, said: 'We need to prevent the needless prosecution of friends or relatives who accompany a loved one to Dignitas.

'But at the same time we need to send out a clear signal that assisting non-terminally ill adults to die is wrong.' Anti-euthanasia campaigners said Mr Minelli's willingness to kill anyone who requested it bore out fears that legalising assisted suicide for the dying rapidly leads to euthanasia for anyone.

Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life said: 'This is exactly what we have been predicting all along.

Before long you will be able to get rid of anyone who is a nuisance.' There was also criticism of the BBC for allowing Mr Minelli airtime on the Today Programme without any balancing material from critics of assisted suicide.

The flagship news show heard from the journalist who interviewed Mr Minelli for Radio 4's The Report.

Simon Cox suggested that doubts over the Swiss clinic were an argument for liberalising the law on assisted suicide in Britain.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: 'The BBC is under an obligation to balance its coverage, and it is breathtaking that on this issue of life and death importance it has not bothered to find anyone to put the case against killing. …