Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Assisted suicide in England and Switzerland, continued

The British press continues to follow British citizens who choose to end their lives in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. (In Britain, as in many if not most places, it remains a repugnant transaction: it's not a crime to attempt suicide, but it is a crime to assist.) In this case, one of the members of the couple who ended their lives was not terminally ill (although it sounds like his quality of life had been severely compromised): With Help, Conductor and Wife Ended Lives

"The controversy over the ethical and legal issues surrounding assisted suicide for the terminally ill was thrown into stark relief on Tuesday with the announcement that one of Britain’s most distinguished orchestra conductors, Sir Edward Downes, had flown to Switzerland last week with his wife and joined her in drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates provided by an assisted-suicide clinic."
"“After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems,” the Downes children said in their statement."
"“Even if they arrest us and send us to prison, it would have made no difference because it is what our parents wanted,” he said.
Attempting suicide has not been a criminal offense in Britain since 1961, but assisting others to kill themselves is. But since the Zurich clinic run by Dignitas was established in 1998 under Swiss laws that allow clinics to provide lethal drugs, British authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to Britons who go there to die.
None of the family members and friends who have accompanied the 117 people living in Britain who have traveled to the Zurich clinic for help in ending their lives have been charged with an offense. Legal experts said it was unlikely that that would change in the Downes case.
But British news reports about the Downes’ suicides noted one factor that appeared to set the case apart from most others involving the Dignitas clinic: Sir Edward appeared not to have been terminally ill. There have been at least three other cases similar to the Downes’, in which a spouse who was not terminally ill chose to die with the other. "

A subsequent story in the Times reveals changing sentiments: Huge public support emerges for the right to die

"Overwhelming public support for a change in the law to allow medically assisted suicide is revealed in a poll for The Times.
Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of people want doctors to be allowed to help terminally ill patients to end their lives. Support is particularly strong among those aged 55 to 64.
Six out of ten people also want friends and relatives to be able to help their dying loved ones to commit suicide without fear of prosecution.
Changing the law has always been opposed strongly by doctors, with two out of three against legalisation. But yesterday saw the first sign of change in the medical establishment. "

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