Twelve Canadians were among the hundreds of “suicide tourists” that travelled to Switzerland to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor.

In results of a new study released Wednesday, Swiss researchers say that doctor-assisted deaths doubled between 2008 and 2012, when 611 foreign nationals travelled to Switzerland to die.

Residents of 31 different countries travelled there within the four-year period, the researchers say, for euthanasia at one of four right-to-die organizations that provide such services to non-Swiss nationals.

The vast majority of so-called “suicide tourists” came from Germany (268) and the United Kingdom (126). Other countries that saw residents travel to Switzerland to end their lives included France (66), Italy (44), U.S. (21), Austria (14), Canada (12) and Spain and Israel (each with 8).

While assisted suicide is strictly restricted in many countries, including Canada, it's not clearly regulated in Switzerland.

According to the report, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the Swiss medical professional code allows doctors to assist in dying when they assume the end of life is near, or that the patient is in the end stage of a terminal illness.

Of the 611 cases studied, 58.5 per cent of suicide tourists were women. The age of the patients ranged from 23 to 97 years old, with a median age of 69.

Nearly half of the patients (47 per cent) suffered from a neurological disease, such as ALS and Parkinson's disease, while 37 per cent of patients had cancer.

For their study of all foreign residents who died by assisted suicide between 2008 and 2012, the researchers searched a database of investigations and post-mortem exams carried out at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Zurich.

CMA softens stance on doctor-assisted deaths

The study comes one day after the Canadian Medical Association overwhelmingly voted in favour of softening its stance on assisted suicide.

Delegates to the CMA's annual conference voted 90 per cent in favour of a resolution that "supports the right of all physicians, within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide medical aid in dying."

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal under Canada's Criminal Code and Ottawa has insisted it has no intention of changing the law.

In June, Quebec became the first Canadian province to pass right-to-die legislation. However, the federal government has said it could challenge the legality of the legislation.

The issue of physician-assisted suicide is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada in October in a case brought forward by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.