The number of patients in Switzerland who killed themselves with the help of assisted-suicide organisations rose significantly in 2011, new figures show. Exit, which caters exclusively to Swiss residents, announced on Monday that it had helped 416 patients to kill themselves last year. Of those deaths, 305 occurred in the country’s German-speaking region, up from 257 in 2010, and 111 occurred in the French-speaking areas, up from 91 in the previous year. The organisation also saw a boom in new memberships. It now has 75,000. In 2011, Dignitas, Switzerland’s other major assisted-suicide organisation, helped 144 people kill themselves – a 35% increase as reported by the Sonntag Zeitung.

Dr Jérôme Sobel, president of Exit for the French-speaking cantons, said the increase in assisted suicides directly correlates with the increase in memberships.

“There are people who call us to get reassurance and who will fix a date [to end their lives] if their situation further deteriorates. So there are people for whom calling us acts as a reassurance, and there are people whom we have been to see but who then in fact died a natural death.”

Only Dignitas helps foreigners. Reports of “suicide tourism” have sparked fiery debate both domestically and internationally, increasing pressure on the Swiss government to tighten assisted-suicide laws. Last June it ruled out introducing new legislation to regulate the practice, but the government has since proposed a set of measures to bolster suicide prevention and improve palliative care options. The Swiss Federal Court has ruled that a person has a right to end his or her life provided he or she is of sound mind. ~, Feb 20