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Criminal trial - «Such a trial is the worst»: The desperate euthanasia and the trial against her

"Such a trial is the worst": The desperate euthanasia and the trial against her

In the trial of an assisted suicide case, two principles collide, the right to life and the right to die. Right in the middle: Erika Preisig, a doctor who polarizes.

Never before have so many spectators queued in front of the metal detector at the Basel criminal justice center in Muttenz. There are twice as many as in the largest trial to date in the courthouse, which opened five years ago. Back then it was about the local power struggle between two warring kickboxing gangs. This time it is about a universal question. It reads: How important is the right to life? And how important is the right to determine one's own death?

If you look into the auditorium, in which the criminal case against euthanasia Erika Preisig is broadcast on video, you can see forty worried faces. Most process observers are in a phase of life in which the existential questions are particularly close to them. There are mostly seniors in sandals and patterned short-sleeved shirts. The fan base of the defendants can be recognized by this style. One of them wears a badge with a wooden heart and the words "Euthanasia" over his left breast.

Love for euthanasia

Preisig is a doctor who polarizes. Her supporters see her as a human rights activist. Her opponents refer to her as "Doctor Death".

Live from the process

The judge attests her "a missionary zeal". She says: "I am doing missionary work abroad." She had just performed in Canada at a congress in front of over 200 doctors. At events like this one she is committed to ensuring that suicide accompaniment is accepted worldwide and that no one has to travel to Switzerland for it. To her.

But in the past three years she has not been able to devote most of her energy to her global mission. Her strength was consumed by her defensive struggle in her home canton.

The Basel public prosecutor's office has charged her with willful homicide. The accusation: She is said to have given an incapacitated woman an infusion with the dying agent sodium pentobarbital.

When Preisig talks about her mission, her words sound solemn and a gentle smile appears on her angular face. When Preisig has to talk about the allegations, her words sound desperate and she presses her lips together in a line. Your voice breaks. "Sorry if I get emotional," she says, "but a trial like this is the worst that can happen to a doctor."

This time it's about their existence. A conviction would probably mean a professional ban.

The doctor got into the desperate situation through a desperate situation three years ago. At that time, experts refused to support her for ethical reasons. Psychologists terminated the collaboration with her and no longer issued her reports.

In principle, anyone in Switzerland who is capable of judging may make use of the services of a suicide organization. So she must be able to assess the consequences of her decision. In the case of people with mental illnesses, the ability to make judgments must be specially checked in accordance with a key decision by the Federal Supreme Court. It is not enough for a family doctor to issue a medical certificate, as is the case in normal cases, but a specialist, psychiatrist or neurologist must be called in.

In the past, specialists from the Basler Memory Clinic took on this task for Preisig. In 2016, however, there was a rethink. The chief doctor explained to her that he was no longer ready to send rows of people to their deaths. This is how Preisig got into a desperate situation. To prevent a patient from killing herself, she decided to help her even without a psychiatric certificate.

Priceig defiantly wrote in the medical report that she was not prepared to forego assisted suicide because psychiatrists refused to cooperate because of ethical concerns. And now she defiantly tells in court what happened after the public prosecutor opened the criminal proceedings and therefore did not offer Preisig any support in sensitive cases like these. Five patients then decided to commit a "hard suicide". They shot themselves, plunged themselves into the depths or drowned themselves. Preisig's voice faltered again. The worst thing in her job for her is not the hundreds of patients who die from her infusion, but the many people to whom she could not offer this way out.

Judgment on an absentee

The difficulty of this criminal process is that the woman who is actually at issue can no longer be questioned. It is Ms. Meyer (name changed), a 66-year-old Swiss woman who could no longer endure her life in the retirement home, especially her life with chronic pain. For seven years she was examined by dozens of doctors, and none of them found a diagnosis that satisfied her. No one found a physical cause for their suffering. That is why the diagnosis of somatization disorder prevailed in her 1000-page medical history. It means that the pain must be psychological. How exactly is not known, because Ms. Meyer felt misunderstood by the psychiatrists. They just wanted to stuff her with medication, she complained.

In this case, what was more important, the basic right to live or to die? On the first day of the trial, witnesses, a psychiatrist and the defendant are questioned for eight hours.

The woman who is actually at issue, the deceased patient, speaks for only fifteen seconds. A woman turns on the projector. The last fifteen seconds in Ms. Meyer's life appear on the white wallpaper of the courtroom. She lies on a bed and speaks into a video camera why she wants to die: "Because I no longer want to have my pain and am happy to be able to leave the world."