A request by a child rapist, imprisoned for life for the danger he poses to the community, is testing Switzerland’s support for assisted suicide.
The unprecedented case has exposed a legal vacuum in the country and has raised complex questions over whether prisoners can seek help to end their own lives.
In 1996, Peter Vogt was convicted for sexual assault and rape against multiple girls and women, ranging in age from 10 to 56.
Although his sentence was for a 10-year term, the 69-year-old is currently being detained indefinitely at Bostadel prison in northern Switzerland as he is still considered dangerous.
Peter told news agency AFP: “It is natural that one would rather commit suicide than be buried alive for years to come.“
He added, “It would be better to be dead than to be left to vegetate behind these walls.”
The law in Switzerland allows assisted suicide under certain conditions. The Swiss Supreme Court has ruled people must commit suicide by their own hand, for example, by taking medication themselves – a doctor may provide but not administer a lethal injection, otherwise they will be liable for criminal prosecution.
People must also be aware of the actions they are undertaking and have given due consideration to their situation. In addition, they should be consistently sure they wish to die, and not be under the influence of another person, or group of persons.
Additionally, article 115 of the Swiss penal code prohibits assisted suicide for “selfish motives”, meaning most assisted suicides in the country are performed on elderly people suffering from terminal diseases.
Authorities are aiming to reach a decision in Vogt’s case in the next few months and have asked the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation to offer advice.
In October, the centre released a report arguing that prisoners should be allowed to end their own lives under certain conditions, due to the “right of self-determination” of individuals.
Barbara Rohner, lead author of the report, told AFP that any detainee possessing discernment should, in principle, have assisted suicide rights if they have “a physical or mental illness resulting in unbearable suffering.”
Vogt has revealed the “unbearable” deterioration in his quality of life, along with the fact that he can no longer see his mother who lives in Austria, is behind his desire to die.
Christine Bussat, founder of the Swiss chapter of the Marche Blanche victims’ rights groups, said the decision on a prisoner’s right to die should ultimately belong to their victims.
The outcome in Vogt’s case will be the first of its kind in Switzerland and could set a precedent for an ageing prison population.
According to the Swiss National Science Foundation, a research institute, the number of prisoners over 50 years old doubled to 600 between 2005 and 2016.The founder of Dignitas, one of eight ‘assisted suicide societies’ in Switzerland, is currently being prosecuted for making a personal profit out of three assisted suicides – something which is prohibited by the Swiss Criminal Code.