Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Swiss Way Part III: Follow the Cash

Well, I hadn’t planned a Part III about the Swiss death machine Dignitas, but as I suspected, we’re starting to see a trickle of information about the rotten underbelly of the business of killing in the heart of civilized Europe.

It’s the money, stupid……..

On Sunday, London’s Daily Mail reported that nurse Soraya Wernli, who was all for helping people kill themselves, went to work for Dignitas several years ago.

Dignitas bigwig Ludwig Minelli put Nurse Wernli quickly to work sorting out the contents of black plastic bin liners that were cluttering a stairwell.

What she found changed what she thought of Dignitas, it’s claims to dignified dying, and put pay to the whole notion of patients and their loved ones being treated with respect:

Minelli said I should empty the sacks onto a long table - they were huge - and sort through everything. I opened one up and was horrified by what was inside. Mobile phones, handbags, ladies' tights, shoes, spectacles, money, purses, wallets, jewels.

I realised these were possessions which had been left behind by the dead. They had never been returned to family members. Minelli made his patients sign forms saying the possessions were now the property of Dignitas and then sold everything on to pawn and second-hand shops.

I felt disgusted. You see these old photos of people in Nazi death camps sorting through the possessions of those who had been gassed. Well, right then and there, that is how I felt.

Wernli soon realized that Dignitas was, first and foremost, about cold, hard, cash. It was, she said, a 'production line of death concerned only with profits.'

She recalls clashing with Minelli about his deadly production-line. One case that especially irked her was the death of 74-year old Brit Reginald Crew:

Mr. Crew arrived in the morning and was dead just hours later,' she says. 'This was another of my many clashes with Minelli. I argued that it wasn't right that people land at the airport, are ferried to his office, have their requisite half-an-hour with a doctor, get the barbiturates they need and are then sent off to die.

This is the biggest step anyone will ever take. They should at least be allowed to stay overnight, to think about what they are doing. But Minelli would have none of it. He once said to me that if he had his way, he would have vending machines where people could buy barbiturates to end their lives as easily as if they were buying a soft drink or a bar of chocolate. I support assisted suicide - but not the way he went about it.

All well and good, Nurse Wernli, but your assumption is [misguided] compassion.

Minelli’s is money. A simple cash flow issue.

More people dead, more money made.

A win-win:

People want to die.

Minelli charges to help kill them.

They die.

He goes to the bank.

What’s not to like?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Swiss Way Part II: The Entrepreneurs of Death Making

Dignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide killing machine responsible for hundreds of deaths, is being investigated for profiteering from killing.

Nah. Couldn’t possibly be, right?

After all, this is all about helping people “die with dignity” isn’t it?

I didn't know "dignity" was this expensive.

Seems to me there's nothing too dignified about making money killing. But then again, there are many stories that how they help people die isn’t that dignified either.

Anyway, the Telegraph has reported that until now, Dignitas’ fiscal transparency has been MIA.

We’re obviousy not going to get answers from the families of people who died under Dignitas macabre watch.

There are clues, however. In Part I last week, I commented that the Daily Mail reported that Maxine Coombes scrimped and saved $15,000 to complete the dastardly deed.

Now, I don’t have the details, but 15K is an awful amount of money to hop from the UK to Switzerland, especially if you have a one-way air ticket.

Another clue: The Telegraph reported that one woman paid about $88,000 “10 times its usual fee.”

So we can surmise that the “usual fee” is about $8,800.

For what? The lethal drugs cost pennies. The venues, apparently, aren’t exactly five-star (backseats of cars, dingy, graffiti-covered apartments). I’ll bet the shifty characters carrying out the deed aren’t been paid as highly trained medical or scientific professionals either.

From the Telegraph:

Juerg Vollenweider, state prosecutor in Zurich, said: "We still don't even know what Dignitas does with the 10,000 Francs it is paid (£6,000) or what it is for. If we are kept from taking a look into their accounting, we could see that as selfish motives."

 "But if Dignitas can also be shown to have selfish motives, it could be in a lot of trouble," a legal source said.

According to the Swiss newspaper Blick, the head of Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli, has so far failed to hand over the books, claiming he needs to transfer them from old computer software.

And, by golly, they certainly seem like they’re cutting as many corners as they can.

Read on:

Swiss officials have also investigated allegations that the remains of dead patients were being dumped in lakes after being cremated. Two Dignitas workers were allegedly caught trying to pour the ashes of 20 bodies into Lake Zurich, but a former employee claimed at least 200 people's mortal remains had ended up in the same body of water.

Making money from killing people?

Not exactly new. Fill in the blank.

As I mentioned last week, don’t let’s hope that this will bring about the closing of Dignitas.

Instead, we’ll have calls for “regulation” “accountability,” and transparency.”

That is, calls to ensure death-making is more efficient.

What we won’t have (or at least not very strongly) are calls for ending this madness.

Too much to hope for, I fear.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Swiss Way Part I: The Dingy Business of Killing People

I’ve detailed in past posts how people, especially from European countries where assisted suicide is illegal, have been flocking to Switzerland to kill themselves. The Swiss killing machine, Dignitas, is the only pro-death Swiss organization that kills foreign visitors.

They want as many people dead as possible, you see. It’s where Dan James and Craig Ewert went to their deaths.

Just for the record, this macabre tourism happens enough that it even has a name – “euthotourism.” 

Sidebar: A sharp entrepreneur is proposing a travel/death package for Kenyans to Switzerland, all inclusive!!


However, “dignity” is not exactly what people have been finding among the Alps and the cuckoo clocks.

Read on.

A little over a year ago, Maxine Coombes decided the extent of her motor neuron disease meant it was time to die. She scrimped and saved the $15,000 for her final trip and travelled to Dignitas accompanied by her sister and her son, Paul Clifford.

Returning to the UK after Coombes’ death, Clifford didn’t see what happened next as dignified at all.

London’s Daily Mail reported what Clifford found. He

said the family had had a “terrible” experience and likened the flat where his mother died to a “backstreet abortion place” with graffiti-covered walls.

To add to his shock, when [Paul’s mother] raised concerns that her son might struggle to cope with her death, a member of staff said he, too, could die at a “cut price” rate.

“When we arrived at the place it was a block of flats, with a buzzer marked Dignitas but there was no answer. We were standing there for about three-quarters of an hour until a man arrived wearing a leather jacket with a sports bag over his shoulder, a dirty blue Tshirt, jeans with the knees cut out and smoking a roll-up [joint]. There was paint and graffiti on the walls outside, and the same on the door to the apartment. Inside there was a coffee table, four chairs around it, a bench, and a little washbasin.

After Coombes died, Paul described his interaction with the Dignitas representatives:

“He wanted us to go out of the room while he checked she was dead. We had to sit on a flight of stairs which stank of urine. We went back in but two police officers, the state prosecutor and two staff and a medical examiner arrived. We were asked loads of questions, with my mum still slumped there . . . in her wheelchair. We were there for at least two and a half hours.

During the questioning, Mr Clifford said, [a Dignitas assistant] rolled a cigarette while a female member of staff with a red “punkrock” hairstyle took her dog out for a walk.

After the police were “satisfied” with their answers, the pair had to leave again. When they were let back in to spend a few minutes with his mother’s corpse, they found her on a bench “going blue”, covered in a “dirty blanket like half a curtain”, with “her clothes chucked on the floor”.

The banal casualness of death.

Dirty, stinky, routine.

Unremarkable. Cold.

Just like brushing your teeth: A necessary waste of time.

Here’s the kicker: This nightmare will hardly engender much shock or outrage, I’m afraid.

Why? Because the spin and pressure will be to pass laws to make places where people kill themselves nice and comfy, clean, and warm.

Decency and love have disappeared.

Barbarity is cool.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In the UK, Having a Disability Might Make People Want to Kill You

Given the state of affairs in the UK related to futile care, the growing disregard of those who have medical and other disabilities, and the growing popularity of assisted suicide, I must admit I’m a little baffled at the fuss caused by a story in The Times.

The British press was all a-twitter because they got a glimpse of the reality of how the culture of death sees people with disabilities.

I’m shocked that they’re shocked.

Here’s what happened:

59 year-old Barry Baker, a pensioner who could only walk using two canes, called 999 and reported that he was having severe chest pain. He was pretty sure he was having a heart attack.

The emergency operator kept Baker on the line while EMTs were dispatched. By the time they arrived, Baker had collapsed.

One big problem. At least for the two EMTs: The phone line to 999 was still open, the tape rolling.

From The Times:

Two ambulancemen have been arrested by police after they were heard allegedly discussing whether they should bother to resuscitate a disabled man who had collapsed at home and subsequently died. . . . [and] making disparaging comments about the state of the house. . . . They are said to have discussed what to tell ambulance control and decided to say that Mr Baker was already dead when they got there.

I don’t see the problem. What the EMTs did is a perfectly logical outcome of a society that has

I’ll bet that the EMTs got a fair dose of futile care theory in their medical training.

I’d bet even further that their profession is riddled with the idea that “quality of life” has to be of the highest order or life’s not worth living - or saving. 

Best bet ‘til last: If you think this doesn’t happen everywhere, on many calls to people with medical and other disabilities, but which slip by because the tape’s not running, then I’m the Queen of England.