updated 12/19/2005 1:30:13 PM ET 2005-12-19T18:30:13

A Swiss hospital has agreed to let an assisted-suicide organization help terminally ill patients take their own lives on its premises.

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A spokesman for the Vaud University Hospital Center confirmed reports in Swiss newspapers Saturday that, starting in January, it would let the Exit society assist in the suicide of people already admitted to the hospital who can no longer go home.

The hospital will not accept people whose only goal in entering "is to prepare to end his life," said Alberto Crespo, who is responsible for law and ethics at the hospital. "The purpose of a hospitalization remains therapeutic treatment."

Exit is allowed to help terminally ill Swiss residents commit suicide elsewhere in Switzerland. Depending on local law, the suicides sometimes take place in a designated apartment or the patient's home.

Crespo said his hospital was the first of five university hospitals in Switzerland to work with Exit.

Switzerland's policy is passive assistance to terminally ill people who have expressed a wish to die.

Elsewhere in Europe, Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2001 and Belgium in 2002.

Britain passed a a law in December 2004 allowing living wills — documents that allow people to specify their medical treatment if they become seriously ill and lose the capacity to decide.

France enables the terminally ill or those with no hope of recovery to refuse treatment in favor of death. Doctors are allowed to administer painkillers, even if their secondary effects include shortening patients' lives. The law stops short of allowing euthanasia.

Europe's top human rights body rejected euthanasia as a legitimate means to end life in April.

In the United States, Oregon voters approved the first physician-assisted suicide law in the United States in 1994. The law took effect after an appeals court lifted a block in 1997, but it is under legal challenge.

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