The Dignitas centre in Zurich, Switzerland, has courted controversy over the past 10 years to continue its mission of assisting people to end their own lives. Photographs by David Levene
Ludwig Minelli, 76, is now famous around the world as the founder of Dignitas, the not-for-profit assisted suicide organisation that has helped 1,032 people to die since 1998
There are established procedures that must be followed in order to receive Minelli’s assistance in securing a swift death with a 15mg dose of a lethal drug. Merely turning up on his doorstep is not the correct way
In the months leading up to the death, Minelli and his colleagues repeatedly question whether the individual really wants to die, and set out alternatives to suicide. 'It is quite simple,' Minelli says. 'As long as we are able to help them in the direction of life, we help them in the direction of life.' When this fails, 'we are ready to help them in the other direction'
This summer the two-storey house in Pf?ffikon was bought for around a €1m (much of it raised by donations from members). A newsletter sent out this month to members has pictures of the site, holiday-brochure style, with alluring captions: 'Beside lies a tiny lake; a little waterfall dabbles'
To enter, guests make their way across wooden decking over a large goldfish pond (which has a tinkling water feature), and then they arrive in a light, open-plan room with a hospital bed in one corner, and a large white sofa in another. Across the hallway is another room with a second bed
The first stage happens at a round table, covered with a yellow tablecloth, where the two Dignitas companions sit with family members and the individual who is ready to die, to discuss the procedure. At this stage, a lot of documents must be signed setting out the desire to die. It is up to the members to decide when they are ready to take an anti-vomiting drug to prepare the stomach, and half an hour later, the lethal drug
People who travel to Switzerland to die with Dignitas are encouraged to come with family and friends, who stay with them as they drink the lethal dose; one person brought 12 friends with him
Beatrice Bucher, a paid member of Dignitas staff who now works in the head office but has been a companion at over 20 deaths. On more than one occasion she has helped people who have changed their mind to return home
People are encouraged to lie down when they take the lethal drug, because if they die sitting up at the table, their mouth drops open and their body slumps, making it harder for the family to watch the process
Minelli says: 'Death is the end of our life. After a good life, we should have a good death. A good death, is death without pain, where you can say I had a good life, and I can now go to the other side'