Under Swiss law, assisted suicide is legal, as long as nobody profits from a death. One Swiss organization is pushing this law to its limits, attracting an increasing number of foreigners who want to take their own lives, and raising serious ethical questions about an act most countries forbid. Correspondent Lara Logan's report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes II tonight, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
At the time of Logan's interview, Ernst Aschmoneit was an 81-year-old man dying of Parkinson's disease. He told Logan, in an exclusive interview, that he was afraid if he waited any longer to take his own life, he'd be incapacitated by the disease and trapped in Germany, where assisted suicide is against the law. "…My sickness was more and more bad," he says. The only way is to say goodbye before it is too late," he says. When Logan asks Aschmoneit if he feels peaceful with his decision, he responds, "Yeah, with…very small doubts."
Ludwig Minelli has no doubts that he is helping people. He's a human rights lawyer who founded Dignitas as an alternative to other assisted suicide groups in Switzerland. It is the only group to welcome foreigners.
Aschmoneit traveled from Germany to Switzerland to die. Like the nearly 150 people before him, Aschmoneit had to convince Minelli that he was of sound mind and had a consistent wish to die. When asked how he knows from only one conversation with those who want to die that he is doing the right thing, Minelli responds, "Ah, it is not knowing. It is feeling and that is much better than knowing."
The process is quick. Aschmoneit goes to see a Dignitas doctor who prescribes a fatal dosage of a barbiturate. With the lethal drug in hand, Aschmoneit makes his final stop – a rented apartment in Zurich, where Dignitas brings its members to commit suicide.
But not everyone thinks Dignitas is helping people. "If somebody flies into the Zurich airport, is brought into an interview for an hour and prescribed medication that's totally wrong – [then] that's ethically wrong," says psychiatrist Tomas Schlaepfer. "Legally, it might be OK, in Swiss law, but ethically, it's wrong."