Assisted suicide as a remedy for suffering? The end-of-life preferences of British “suicide tourists”

Published on: Author: Dr Naomi Richards Leave a comment

Individuals’ aesthetic preferences for a good death are as significant as physical suffering in decisions to opt for an assisted suicide.

This is the main finding from my anthropological study, now available as an open access article Assisted Suicide as a Remedy for Suffering? The End-of-Life Preferences of British “Suicide Tourists” in the journal Medical Anthropology.

In the article I analyse the diverse beliefs and motivations of seven Britons who were all proposing to travel to Switzerland for help to die; so-called ‘suicide tourism’.

Watch a video ‘abstract’ in which I introduce the article and my research:

During my research I also attended a do-it-yourself workshop in London where participants learn the techniques for what is known as ‘self-deliverance’ or ‘rational’ suicide.

In my research I wanted to find out why people might choose to undertake this controversial journey, which at the time carried with it a risk of legal repercussions for anybody found helping them, rather than take their own life at home in the UK.

What I found was that for some of my participants, the involvement of a physician in their suicide would mean that the responsibility for making the decision to die would be shared, making it feel less like a suicide.

For other participants, it was solely the physician’s power as prescriber that was solicited. They rejected the idea that their decision needed to be validated by a medical professional.

All participants in this study had ultimately come to the conclusion that their current existence was no longer consistent with their notion of a ‘good life’. With the loss of a good life, death became a replacement ‘good’ which was strived for. An assisted suicide in Switzerland offered a particular dying aesthetic that fit with participants’ notions of a good death, involving certainty in timing and outcome, and control.

Five of the seven participants in this study are now known to have had an assisted suicide in Switzerland.

In 2017-18, as part of Global Interventions at the End of Life, a Wellcome Trust-funded research project here at the University of Glasgow, we will be undertaking a case study on the Belgium model of ‘integral’ assisted suicide and palliative care.

Naomi Richards

This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/J004618/1, PTA-031-2005-00228].

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