Inside Swiss suicide clinic where US mother ended her life (2024)

This nondescript building on a quiet side street in the Swiss city of Basel is the unlikely headquarters of a controversial suicide clinic where a US mother ended her life to 'punish' her estranged husband.

Catherine Kassenoff, from Westchester in New York State, traveled to Basel last May to take her life at the Pegasos Swiss Association, which charges $11,000 (£8,600) for what it advertises as death with minimal 'bureaucracy'.

The 54-year-old lawyer claimed her husband, Alan, had been abusing her and their children for years, and that it led to her taking her own life amid their custody battle, although Mr Kassenoff has denied being abusive.

While the far better known Dignitas clinic is located in a detached building with balconies surrounded by grass and a duck pond, Pegasos is housed in a bland three-storey block with anonymous white waiting rooms resembling a dentist's surgery.

And also unlike Dignitas, Pegasosdoes not require people to be terminally ill to choose to die.

Among the hundreds who ended their lives there last year was British chemistry teacher Alastair Hamilton, who took a lethal overdose of drugs without telling his family and had no discernable illness, and two American sisters who had become 'tired' of life.

Pegasos Swiss Association, which was established in August 2019, has a nondescript exterior

One of Pegasos's death rooms is pictured in a 2020 documentary about Laura Henkel (center) who chose to die there

Catherine Kassenoff, 54, of Westchester, took to Facebook in May of last year to pen a note where she announced she would be 'ending my own life'

The Hamilton family only learned Alastair had taken his life at the clinic after police examined his bank account statements and found that he had transferred thousands of pounds to Pegasos, leading his mother Judith to brand it a 'cowboy clinic'.

Mr Hamilton told his parents he was visiting a friend in Paris when instead he was flying to Basel in Switzerland to end his life.

Shockingly, it took the persistence of Mr Hamilton's devastated family, the Metropolitan Police, the Foreign Office and Interpol to discover what had happened to Alastair after he vanished last summer.

In emails to Alastair's family, a frustrated Met Police sergeant criticised Pegasos's 'lack of compassion and lack of transparency' as 'completely unacceptable'. The clinic later vowed to change its procedures to ensure that relatives were always informed in future.

In another controversial case, American sistersAmmouri and Susan Frazier decided to die atPegasos in 2022 because they had become 'tired of life'.

Dr Ammouri, a 54-year-old palliative care doctor, and Ms Frazier, 49, had been suffering from medical 'frustrations' including chronic insomnia, vertigo and back pain, a doctor they consulted told The Independent.

Their grieving brother, Ammouri Ammouri, said he wanted answers over their deaths, telling the New York Post: 'They were so secretive, especially with me.

Read More Mom 'was euthanized at suicide clinic to punish estranged husband for getting custody of kids'

'Can someone tell me what happened? Do people snap just like that? It could be. You wake up one day and you don't feel like life is precious.'

The Pegasos building is three stories high, with a hairdresser also occupying its first floor. There is no obvious indication outside that the building is also home to an assisted suicide facility.

The not-for-profit clinic was founded byRuedi Habegger, thebrother of the Swiss suicide activist Erika Preisig.

Habegger was inspired by the case of 104-year-old British born biologist David Goodall, who had to fly to Switzerland to end his life in 2018 because he could not do so in Australia, where he lived.

The clinic prides itself on minimising bureaucracy and operates on a not-for-profit basis.

Pegasos's death rooms are intimate, and at least one appears to be windowless, or have its curtains drawn for privacy.

Images of one of the rooms shown on Australian and American documentaries about patients who previously traveled there to die shows breezeblock walls painted white, as well what appears to be a rug pinned to the walls.

Laura Henkel, an Australian woman who allowed her filmmaker daughter to record her final moments at Pegasos, was seen laying on the death room's bed during her final moments in December 2019.

She opted for death via intravenous injection, which can be seen beside her bed in an image from the documentary.

Henkel had just turned 90, was not suffering from any terminal illness, and said she was mentally and physically healthy for her age.

But she said she wanted to decide to die on her own terms, before suffering the type of illness commonly associated with very old age that could have prevented her from being able to make that decision.

Henkel traveled to Switzerland because assisted dying is illegal in her home country of Australia.

Pegasos is housed in a bland three-storey block with anonymous white waiting rooms resembling a dentist's surgery

In the end, patients are instructed on how to provide themselves with a lethal drug co*cktail that can be delivered through an intravenous drip or through a drink. Cindy Siegel Shelpler (right, pictured at the facility with husband David before the process) chose the IV option, commenting that it felt cold before falling asleep and dying

While the Dignitas clinic (pictured) is located in a detached building with balconies surrounded by grass and a duck pond, Pegasos is housed in a bland three-storey block

Dignitas (pictured) has helped thousands of people end their lives

When the time comes, patients are instructed on how to kill themselves. They can either select a lethal drink or death through an intravenous drip.

A doctor will hook the patient up to the drip, to insure the needle is inserted correctly, but the patient must push a notch to let its deadly contents flow into their body.

Pegasos approves all adults of 'sound mind' regardless of their country of origin or residence, the company boasts on their website.

A third party must be there to confirm and identify the person who took their own life. Pegasos advices patients who do not have a witness to contact another assisted dying organization called Exit for help.

In order to use Pegasos services, individuals must be members of the organization and pay an annual fee of about $110 (£86). Once a member, a person can apply for VAD.

In order to apply for the process, Pegasos needs to know the reason a person is requesting a VAD as well as their current living situation and family background.

Patients must also submit a brief biography, a birth certificate, marriage or divorce certificates, funeral instructions, health reports and proof of residence.

Read More UK laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide explained amid calls for a vote on legalisation

Aside from the membership fee, which could be waived if a patient is already a member of Exit International, the average cost of a VAD with Pegasos is more than $11,000 (£8,600).

Pegasos has English, Swiss, German, French and Italian speakers on staff.

It has no required waiting period for assisted suicide but does require consultations to be completed.

'Pegasos believes that for a person to be in the headspace of considering ending their lives, their quality of life must be qualitatively poor,' the company explains on their website.

'Pegasos accepts that some people who are not technically 'sick' may want to apply for a voluntary assisted dying. But this does not mean the person is 'well'. Professor David Goodall was one of these people.

'He was not sick but his eyesight was failing him, as was his mobility. Old age is rarely kind. The decision to end one's life is an intensely personal one.

'Pegasos makes every effort to fullyunderstand the unique circ*mstances of everyone who makes contact with us.'

Catherine Kassenoff travelled to thePegasos Swiss in May last year after announcing on Facebook that she was'ending my own life'.

She had claimed her husband Allan Kassenoff had been abusing her and their children for years, and that it led to her taking her own life.

Allan was given sole custody of their three daughters, with his wife opting to kill herself after she lost visitation rights and being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The clinic was founded by Ruedi Habegger, who was inspired by the case of 104-year-old British born biologist David Goodall (pictured)

Mrs Kassenoff had claimed her husband Allan Kassenoff had been abusing her and their children for years, and that it led to her taking her own life amid their custody battle

New details have since emerged about her suicide, as well as claims from former nannies that Catherine had punished her own adopted daughter by 'dripping water' on her all day so she couldn't sleep.

She is accused of treating her other daughters who were later born via IVF in a much kinder way.

As part of her Facebook post, Catherine also released thousands of court documents, alongside videos of her husband, in a now defunct Dropbox link.

One of the reports seen by the outlet that was released was written by UK based former psychiatrist Colin Brewer.

Brewer had written in his report for the Pegasos that Catherine was of a 'sound enough mind' to end her life.

Read More I'm saving up for Dignitas because agonising back pain blights my life

In Switzerland, it is legal to provide an individual the means to take their own life as long as the reason is not 'based on self-interest.'

According to Swissinfo.ch, around 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2020. Prior to the pandemic, about half those were from oversees, the majority came from Germany and the UK.

The process is primarily carried out with the assistance of Dignitas and Exit, the two largest assisted suicide organizations in the country.

In the UK, under the Suicide Act 1961, anyone helping or encouraging someone to take their own life in England or Wales can be prosecuted and jailed for up to 14 years if found guilty of an offence.

Section two of the act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they carry out an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and the act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.

In 2015 MPs including former prime minister David Cameron rejected a Bill to legalize assisted dying.

Opposition to changing the law has come from faith groups, campaigners who say disabled people may feel pressured to end their lives and campaigners who fear assisted dying would become a business.

The Campaign for Dignity in Dying, an anti-Dignitas group, estimates that nearly 350 Britons have died through Dignitas.

Catherine Kassenoff's husband Alan was forced to quit his job as a lawyer following a leave of absence in June, because TikToker Robbie Harvey, an advocate for women in abusive relationships, started uploading videos Catherine had shared on her Facebook.

Her videos were removed but her claims were circulated online and among over 3 million of his followers.

Along with the details of their nasty legal woes and his alleged abuse, Catherine shared videos of Kassenoff throwing tantrums and calling her a 'fat, old loser.'

Among the hundreds who died there atPegasos last year was British chemistry teacher Alastair Hamilton, who took a lethal injection without telling his family and had no discernable illness

His distraught mother Judith Hamilton, 81, called the facility a 'cowboy clinic'

In another video, he was heard berating the mom-of-three, saying he hated her.

Other clips show him allegedly screaming behind doors, yelling at his kids to 'shut up,' and dramatically leaving their home and refusing to take care of the children that remain in his custody.

Meanwhile, a video of one of their daughters reveals the young girl crying and saying she doesn't 'want to go with that crazy guy.'

Kasenoff sued Harvey last year for him sharing the clips, claiming they led to financial and emotional ruin.

'With a few clicks of his keyboard and a video uploaded to TikTok, Defendant Robert Harvey financially destroyed Plaintiff Allan Kassenoff,' his attorneys wrote in the filing.

'And, even worse, irreparably harmed Mr. Kassenoff's three young children… by forcing them into a life where their identities will forever be associated with a bitter and ugly divorce and the suicide of their mother.'

The lawsuit claims that Harvey's followers 'bombarded' the law firm with more than 7,000 calls and 500 emails accusing him of being the reason Catherine took her life.

Allan had sought out $150m (£117m) to compensate him for his loss of earnings and his 'destroyed reputation. They settled earlier this week for an undisclosed sum.

Catherine shared videos of Kassenoff throwing tantrums and calling her a 'fat, old loser'.

In another controversial case, American sisters Ammouri and Susan Frazier decided to die at Pegasos because they had become 'tired of life'

The sisters traveled to Basel on February 3, staying a week in the city and completing a psychiatric evaluation before dying together on February 11

In another video, he was heard berating the mother-of-three and saying he hated her.

Further clips show him supposedly screaming behind doors, screaming at his kids to 'shut up', dramatically leaving their home, and refusing to take care of the children that were in his custody.

Allan Kasenoff sued Harvey last year for him sharing the clips, claiming they led to financial and emotional ruin.

The lawsuit states that Harvey's followers 'bombarded' the law firm with over 7,000 calls and 500 emails accusing him of being the reason why Catherine took her life.

Allan sought out $150 million to compensate him for his loss of earnings and his diminished reputation, and they settled at the start of the week, for an unidentified amount.

Recently, Harvey released a nine-minute video apologising for the videos, stating the had 'made some mistakes in the reporting' of the divorce.

He added: 'Catherine did not provide a complete record of what was happening. I echoed exactly what Catherine said.

'I wish I would have known the whole story at the time when I was reporting the Kassenoff case. But I did not. Now that more facts have been presented to me, I now see where I was wrong.'

  • For help and support in the UKcall the Samaritans on 116 123. In theUS contact the National Suicide Hotline on 988.
Inside Swiss suicide clinic where US mother ended her life (2024)
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