March 27, 2012 / 4:17 PM / 8 years ago

Swiss assisted suicide up seven-fold in a decade

* Between 1998-2009 number of assisted deaths rose steadily

* Nearly 300 cases in 2009, equal to 4.8 per 1000 deaths

* More women than men aged 55 and over receive help dying

ZURICH, March 27 (Reuters) - The number of Swiss residents who died by assisted suicide rose sevenfold between 1998 and 2009, statistics published for the first time showed on Tuesday.

Almost 300 Swiss resident died this way in 2009, compared to just 43 in 1998, the Federal Statistics Office said.

In 90 percent of cases, those who resorted to assisted suicide were over 55, and more women were likely to receive help ending their lives than men.

Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, if performed by a non-physician who has no direct interest in the death. Euthanasia, or “mercy killing”, is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon.

Swiss rules are among the world’s most liberal, but the government has looked to tighten the law to ensure it is only used as a last resort for the terminally ill.

Cancer was cited as the decisive factor in almost half of cases, while neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases also figured among the underlying causes. Depression accounted for only 3 percent of assisted deaths.

Last year, voters in Zurich overwhelmingly rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism” - foreigners travelling to Switzerland to die.

Statistics from Dignitas show the clinic based near Zurich helped a total of 1,298 people commit suicide between 1998 and 2011. (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)

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