Forum on End of Life in Ireland Religion and Faith Groups

Upcoming Workshops and Presentations

If you wish to attend any of the workshops listed please contact Linda Collins at 01 675 5970 or by e-mail at  Workshops start promptly at 10.00 am with registration from 9.30 am to 10.00 am and end at approximately 4.00 pm.  There is tea, coffee and pastries served during registration and there is a light lunch served at all workshops.  There is NO fee to attend these workshops.

Forum on End of Life in Ireland

Religion and Faith Groups

Wednesday July 22, 2009

Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2

This workshop will be chaired by Dr Ann Lavan of the UCD School of Applied Social Science

The presenting groups or churches are:

  1. Church of Ireland
  2. Roman Catholic
  3. Society of Friends
  4. Humanists
  5. National Health Care Chaplains

© The Irish Hospice Foundation 2009

Article of relevance to debate about the End of Life care.


The Swiss clinic that aids suicide is accused of poor care, botched procedures and even dumping ashes, writes Matthew Campbell

“Dying with Dignitas is starting to look grubby.”

Some called their end romantic but a nurse from the Swiss “suicide clinic” where Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan ended their lives together with a glass of poison has warned Britons not to be fooled into following their example. “There is nothing dignified or uplifting about it,” says Soraya Wernli, a former employee of Dignitas, the Swiss organisation that assists those who choose to end their lives. The word “clinic”, she says, is an exalted epithet for “just one person who has found a way to make a lot of money out of death and the fear of it”. Downes, 85, an acclaimed British conductor, was blind and nearly deaf, according to Caractacus and Boudicca, his children. Their 74-year-old mother, suffering from terminal cancer, apparently had only weeks to live. The couple drank a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital in a Zurich

flat rented to Dignitas by Ludwig Minelli, its founder and president. For Wernli, the willingness of Dignitas to sanction double suicides when only one of the partners is terminally ill shows just how far it has strayed from the ideal of ethically assisted suicide. “It has become an industry,” says Wernli, 51, noting that the price charged by Dignitas had risen from £2,000 seven years ago to £7,000 today. More than 1,000 people, including 115 from Britain, have died there. She accused Minelli, 75, a former journalist and lawyer, of making “millions” by turning what should be a last resort for the terminally ill into an option for those suffering nothing more than depression.

“I once spent 24 hours talking to a depressed 22-year-old, urging him to speak to his parents who had no idea where he was or what was happening,” recalls Wernli, one of the “companions” hired by Minelli in 2002 to assist people in the last minutes of their lives. “Minelli was cross with me for interfering. He made the boy pay €200 for the prescription. He was punished for wanting to live.” On another occasion Wernli persuaded an Englishwoman in her fifties with cancer not to go through with suicide on the grounds that some in her condition could expect a reasonable quality of life with the right care. The woman has since written thanking her for saving her life. Wernli, a mother of three who lives in a village near Zurich, is not the only one campaigning against Dignitas. In France the cause has been taken up by Daniel Gall, an actor, who accompanied Geneviève, his sister — who had Alzheimer’s — and Yves, his brother-in-law, who was not ill, on their final journey in January 2008.

“The death of my sister lacked dignity,” writes Gall in a new book, recalling how the couple had wanted to hold hands at the end but could not do so because they were lying on two single beds. “In my dreams I had seen them lying on a big, welcomingbed in a softly lit room accompanied by a Bach aria, but it was a sinister place with bare walls and shabby furniture, without even the comfort of a hospital room.”

There were endless forms to fill out, a process supervised by a whisky-swilling former goatherd who was one of the Dignitas employees. The other assistant was a grumpy former schoolteacher who sat smoking one cigarette after another. Neither had any medical experience. Gall said he felt sickened when his sister’s ashes turned up in the post after three weeks. He should count himself lucky: Wernli says that during her years with Minelli the remains of hundreds of other customers were unceremoniouslydumped in Lake Zurich, prompting an official warning from sanitation officials.

Human remains were not all she had to deal with. On one occasion Minelli asked her to empty several bin liners onto a table and sort through the mobile telephones,jewellery, spectacles and money left behind by the dead. “These things were never returned to family members,” she says, claiming Minelli would sell them. According to Wernli, the venue where customers are received often changes when complaints from neighbours about the ambulances and body bags force Dignitas to move. Wernli, who supervised some 35 assisted suicides, described the flat she most often used as decrepit. “There was a table that would often fall into two pieces on the ground,” she says. “On one occasion the bed a patient was lying on collapsed. The doctor called Minelli to ask him if he couldn’t at least get some proper furniture.” The organisation has helped people to die in camper vans, hotel rooms and even cars, she adds. When it has been unable to find a doctor to prescribe sodium pentobarbital, it has, on occasion, used helium gas. Wernli says she supports assisted suicide, but not in the way it is conducted by Dignitas.  Swiss law insists that would-be candidates have at least two interviews with a doctor before getting access to lethal drugs. The reality, she says, is very different: “People often are dead just four hours after arriving at the airport. It’s like a conveyer belt. They should at least be allowed to stay overnight so they can think about what they are doing.” She spent 2½ years working for Minelli and concluded that he was motivated more by money than a desire to help the terminally ill to find peace. So great was her disillusion that she spent her last few months in the clinic in 2005 acting as an undercover informant for the police. Her relationship with Minelli got off to a difficult start when she refused to “accompany” couples, arguing that double suicide should never be allowed under any circumstances.

She was concerned that people who were not unwell and had years left to live were being “pressured” into dying, influenced by depression or the fear of being left alone or becoming a burden. Then she discovered Minelli was authorising double suicides with the help of other “companions” behind her back. “He lets everyone die,” she says, “even those with a chance of life. He ordered a dose of sodium pentobarbital for the dog of a Parisian woman who wanted to die with her pet. I said no to that. It’s just not serious.” She tells of a German man who came to Dignitas to die but who was still alive 48 hours after being attached to a machine that had failed to pump the right dose of poison into him. “It was an awful experience,” she says, recalling the spectacle of the partially poisoned man writhing about in a coma. “It was then I realised Minelli had to be stopped.” She has now made this her personal quest, launching lawsuits against him and writing a book about what she calls the “production line of death.” Minelli has thus far avoided prosecution and Wernli’s campaign has been dismissed by a Dignitas spokesman. “There are and have been people who, for whatever reasons, spread rumours and false allegations,” he said. “Generally we do not comment on these rumours and allegations because it is simply a waste of time.” Doctors are coming under pressure not to co-operate with Minelli, however, and last month the Swiss parliament debated changing the law. At last, says Wernli, “Switzerland is beginning to listen.”

Sunday Times (c)


2 Responses

  1. Actually I see two Rigpa affiliates listed on conference details though whether they will have the bare faced audacity to show their faces at the conference after their leaders history has emerged remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the above comments need clarifying a little. Tibetan Buddhism has some powerful teachings on death an dying and there is no doubt that these can be beneficial to the dying. However, the messenger is, in this case, an individual with a long and chequered history of physical and sexual abuse. The old ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ addage needs to be reversed here: the message is powerful and of great value. The messenger is a thoroughly reprehensible character who has hidden his abusive history to the point that he has duped even our own president. So, yes to Tibetan Buddhism and its insightful wisdom . On the other hand, no thank you to a liar and sex abuser. Like noble Buddhism, we can well do without your help.


  2. I note that the almighty RIGPA, who were formerly at the centre of the death and dying industry universe, are not present at the conference. Why? Is it because they recognise that the other faith and non-faith groups have equally got something important to say on the issue? is it because they have had their fair share of the limelight and feel it is now time to let others speak? Or is it because they consciously concealed the fact of their leader’s long term history of violent and sexual abuse of disciples and they now feel that putting themselves in the spotlight of public scrutiny might damage their hold on the market and market share?It doesn’t take much to work out the answer to this one. Thank you Rigpa for your input into the palliative care world in Ireland. Now leave us alone and go and do your empire building elsewhere, where the public can be duped into the illusion that Sogyal is not a violent sexual abuser. The Irish people have been taken for a ride and we would now like to get off your bandwagon, thank you very much


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