Clarifying remarks about NRP 67
Open, fact-based discussion of research results is key.
NRP 67 is entering a new phase. In the coming year, numerous researchers will be drawing their projects to a close and publishing their results. The Steering Committee is aware that end-of-life topics often give rise to controversial debate. It hopes that all stakeholders will be able to engage in an open dialogue on the findings of the research. At the same time, it rejects all criticism that is not based in fact.
Those responsible for NRP 67 – the Executive Management of the SNSF and the Steering Committee – wish to correct the grave and unfounded accusations made by the right-to-die organisations Dignitas and Exit Deutsche Schweiz. These organisations allege that the NRP’s objectives are political rather than scientific, i.e. that it is seeking to restrict assisted suicide. They have repeatedly backed up these allegations by saying that the Steering Committee was selected with this goal in mind. Exit Deutsche Schweiz, for instance, levels the accusation that “Catholic, conservative and foreign people were selected”. This is not true.
- The Federal Council already responded to a request in Parliament about this in May 2013, explaining that the members of the Steering Committee of NRP 67 were selected on the basis of their scientific and professional profiles ( Curia Vista 13.1006 ). The SNSF has rejected these accusations of bias several times already. The Steering Committee comprises experts from a range of disciplines, including internal medicine, geriatrics and palliative care, nursing science, Christian social ethics, sociology, law and health economics.
- The accusation of an excess of foreign representation is disconcerting and also untrue: of the eight members of the Steering Committee, two are linked to a university abroad – one expert is from Brussels and the other from Berlin. All of the others live and work in Switzerland and are Swiss nationals.
The right-to-die organisations claim that NRP 67 specifically sought to obtain suitable reviews for research proposals during the evaluation procedure and was not transparent. This allegation is also clearly rejected:
- The SNSF has opened up the evaluation procedure to the right-to-die organisations several times and made a public statement on this matter in February 2014 ( SNSF News, 10.02.2014 ).
- In a freedom of information request, the association Dignitas demanded access to the proposals for nine projects that had been approved in the scope of NRP 67 “End of Life”. The SNSF responded to this demand to the extent permissible by law. The SNSF did not provide access to the review files for the reason that their disclosure would be incompatible with its duty to protect the researchers’ personal privacy rights, and not because it sought to hide something. In December, the Federal Supreme Court decided that the SNSF had acted correctly (see SNSF press release of 2 December 2015 ). Publication of the information would have breached the personal privacy rights of all researchers, not only those working in NRP 67. Therefore, the Federal Supreme Court’s decision clarifies a general question that is of great importance to the SNSF and all researchers.
Finally, the right-to-die organisations claim that NRP 67 is “obsessed with suicide assistance”. Once again, this is not borne out by the facts:
- Of a total of 33 research projects, only two are looking at specific aspects of assisted suicide. These are the project led by Christine Bartsch at the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University of Zurich, and Peter Schaber ’s project based at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Zurich.
- Assisted dying, on the other hand, is a prominent topic, since many projects are concerned with end-of-life decisions. Decisions in this context (such as the decision to cease life-sustaining treatment, or not to transfer to intensive care or palliative care, or treatment of pain and symptoms in end-of-life situations) are typically referred to under the umbrella of “assisted dying”. To those responsible for NRP 67, it is obvious that issues concerning assisted suicide and dying should be considered in a research programme that focuses on the end of life.
NRP 67 seeks to use the results of the research projects to contribute to an open, factual and inspiring dialogue among all of the relevant and interested stakeholders. In this context, the Steering Committee has announced a range of dialogue events for 2016 ( NRP 67 News, 3.12.2015 ). The SNSF and the Steering Committee are hoping for a critical and fair debate on the research findings, which will be published in the coming years.