Friday, June 9, 2006

ZURICH — Residents who share an apartment building with Dignitys, an assisted-suicide charity, have begun a campaign to evict the organization from the building.

In the eight years that Dignitys has been in the building, more than 450 people have killed themselves with barbiturates in the fourth-floor apartment owned by the Swiss charity. The bodies are put into a zipper bag and transported in the three-person elevator or carried downstairs.

Traumatized by the experience of passing living people going up in the elevator only to come across them hours later descending in a body bag, some residents want to move out of the block.

“We call it the ‘house of horrors,’” said Gloria Sonny, 53, who has lived there for six years. “This is meant to be a residential flat, but some days you’d think it was a morgue.”

For many residents, the worst part is passing people on their way up to the “death flat.”

“The look in their eyes haunts me, particularly if they are young,” Miss Sonny said.

Miss Sonny, who is spearheading the campaign to evict Dignitys, is collecting signatures from residents in her building and others nearby.

She said support had come not only from opponents of Dignitys.

“Some people admire the charity but are horrified that they use communal areas,” she said.

Kelvin Leneveu lives on the third floor with his girlfriend, Marila Paredes, 24, and their son, Kevin, 4. Mr. Leneveu, 23, a cleaner, said, “It’s very creepy. The floors are thin, and when we hear movements upstairs, we know that means they’re up there and someone’s going to die.”

Although euthanasia is forbidden in Switzerland, assisted suicide is legal. But many Swiss politicians are concerned that the country has gained a reputation for “death tourism.” They also have highlighted the cost involved. After each death, a police officer must be called to the apartment and shown a video of the suicide to prove it was voluntary.

Gerhard Fischer, a legislator with the Evangelical People’s Party, said such calls cost the taxpayer almost $400,000 a year. He is suspicious that the charity preys on vulnerable people.

“People who are disturbed in some way and want to end it all need help to live, not to die,” he said.

Ludwig Minelli, the lawyer who founded Dignitys in 1998, declined to comment. In the past, he has said that 80 percent of people who have received the green light from the clinic never go any further. Those who do go ahead are driven to a residential suburb.

The apartment is one of 20 in the building. It looks innocuous, with the word “Dignitys” in discreet white letters alongside one buzzer.

On June 2, the Sunday Telegraph witnessed a German family entering the building. Two and a half hours later, the coroner arrived, and a body was carried downstairs.

“This wouldn’t be allowed in an expensive district,” said one resident. “Most of us can’t afford to live anywhere else, but we are now making a stand.”

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