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A small religious party is campaigning to ban groups from charging for their services -- an idea which the pugnacious Minelli calls the product of "sick brains."
Officials in the canton of Zurich threatened to restrict their activities by making doctors see each patient more than once, and by limiting the supply of sodium pentobarbital. So some groups hoarded the drug and Dignitas turned to alternative methods, coming under scrutiny this spring after it was reported they were suffocating people with plastic bags and helium.
The bag is placed over the head of a person who then opens a flow of helium, falls into a coma and dies "in 99.9 percent of cases," according to Derek Humphry, a British author whose suicide manual "Final Exit" has sold at least a million copies.
The canton of Zurich examined the practice and found in May that the group had done nothing illegal. But the use of helium smacked to many Swiss of Nazi gas chambers, and made Minelli a tabloid hate figure -- a sentiment widely shared in Schwerzenbach.
Like most Swiss, the townspeople support the principle of assisted suicide, but "the helium was the last straw," says Manfred Milz, who is evicting Dignitas from his building.
It has to leave by June -- its third move in two years. Dignitas previously used a private home, hotel rooms, even mobile homes.
But demand continues to grow, Dignitas says, and its membership has reached nearly 6,000 over the past decade. Some are merely supporters of its work, others intend to die with its help when the time comes.
The government is weighing rules that could spell the end for "suicide tourism," which James Harris of London-based Dignity in Dying says would only mean more agonizing suicides, often botched.
Bernard Sutter, a spokesman for Exit, Switzerland's largest assisted-suicide group, which only helps Swiss residents, says other countries should change their laws.
"We can't solve all the problems of Germany, England, France and Italy," he said.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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