Human Rights

Swiss prosecutors ask court to reexamine case of doctor euthanizing healthy elderly woman

doctor euthanasia, Swiss

Swiss prosecutors have asked an appeals court to reexamine the case of Dr. Pierre Beck, a doctor who euthanized a healthy woman alongside her sick husband in 2017.

Beck is a retired doctor who had originally been found guilty of breaking the law when he gave a lethal dose of a sedative and preanesthetic pentobarbital to a healthy 86-year-old woman who wanted to die with her ill husband. He was given 120 days in prison and a fine. However, after he vowed to appeal the decision, two other court hearings cleared him of the charges.

The prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that it has asked the Federal Supreme Court to review the case again.

Beck is the former vice president of the physician-assisted death group EXIT International. He admitted to acting outside of the criteria of the law but noted that he didn’t regret killing the woman and would do it again. He was convicted of breaking the Federal Act on Medicinal Products, but the Switzerland Supreme Court overturned that conviction in a 3-2 ruling, saying that the case should go back to the cantonal court in Geneva and be examined under the Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, which includes pentobarbital.

The Geneva court ruled that no crime had been committed when the doctor administered pentobarbital to the woman.

“The mere fact of a physician prescribing pentobarbital to a person in good health, capable of discernment and wishing to die, does not constitute behavior punishable by the law on narcotics,” read the ruling.

Beck began working with the couple in 2015. While the husband was seriously ill, his wife was healthy. However, she insisted that she could not live without her husband, so in 2017, Beck prescribed the woman a fatal dose of pentobarbital and killed both of them.

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“I am being reproached for having acted alone, and if it were to happen again I would do the same, but probably ask for advice,” Beck told Swiss television RTS. “I admit I went over the limits, but I was in an unusual situation and wanted absolutely to avoid this woman killing herself violently, which she seemed certain to do.”

The drugs used in assisted suicide and euthanasia are often the same as those used to commit the death penalty — including pentobarbital, which can cause vomiting and in high doses cause death by respiratory arrest. These drugs have often left individuals paralyzed as they slowly die. Because no outward expression of pain can be made, the assumption is that the death is humane and painless, but experts have likened it to drowning in a person’s own fluids. Still other experiments with assisted suicide and euthanasia are said to “burn patients’ mouths and throats, causing some to scream in pain.”

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