Local authorities in Zurich are asking questions about the assisted suicide facility Dignitas, after 300 urns containing human ashes were found in Lake Zurich this week. The urns bear the logo of the Nordheim crematorium, which is used by Dignitas.
The Daily Telegraph quoted Roman Ruetz, a police diver, who said, “After 50 we stopped counting. They lay there in a big heap.”
The urns were discovered accidentally by divers from a rescue service on Lake Zurich who were looking for a sunshade that had broken off one of their boats. After retrieving 13 urns, they notified the Environment Agency.
The Swiss Environment Agency has filed a criminal complaint against “unknown persons for disturbance of the dead.” Wolfgang Bollack said, “The retrieved urns are being kept in a place respecting their dignity.”
Police spokesman Stefan Oberlin said, “We believe they came from the Zürich Oberland as it says on the urns – which is where Dignitas is based.”
Former Dignitas employee Soraya Wernli, told media that dumping urns into Lake Zurich was a standard procedure of the facility. She said that Dignitas director Ludwig Minelli has put at least 300 urns into the lake himself, but “later asked his daughter and another member of staff to do it.” Minelli has refused to comment.
It is illegal in Switzerland to dispose of a large number of urns containing human remains without a commercial license, a criminal offense that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.
The discovery has garnered much press coverage in the UK after it was revealed that as many as 115 British people have gone to Dignitas to commit suicide. The euthanasia and assisted suicide lobby has capitalised on the number, arguing that the facility’s popularity indicates a need for legalization in Britain.
The Daily Mail quoted Lesley Close, whose brother John took his own life at Dignitas in 2003, who said, “This underlines the need for change in British law on the subject of assisted suicide.
“We should be absolutely certain what happens to the remains of our loved ones after they are dead. We need our own laws.”
Others, however, have questioned what the find says about Dignitas’ treatment of the dead.
Nicolas Mori, a spokesman for the Zurich church, said: “If burials on the water are conducted on a commercial basis and any promised ceremony is not carried out – that is just completely unacceptable.
“It is like getting rid of the rubbish, just getting it out of sight and out of mind, and we condemn it totally.”
Conservative bioethicist Wesley Smith questioned the outrage directed at the alleged urn-dumping activities of Dignitas. “So, facilitating the suicides of these people is perfectly fine, but burying them wrongly – that gets Minelli in trouble!” he lamented. “The word irony fails to adequately characterize the situation.”
“Assisted suicide advocates often claim the mantle of compassion – as Minelli often has. But as with Kevorkian, that is often a mask for indifference and abandonment.”