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High Court allows suicide trip

Published: 6th December 2004

A 66 year old British woman with cerebellar ataxia has travelled to Zurich for physician assisted suicide. Mrs Z died there after a landmark case did not prevent her husband from accompanying her, as she was too ill to go alone.

The local council caring for Mrs Z brought the case to court requesting a ban to prevent her travelling to Switzerland. The temporary ban granted to the council was overturned by the High Court. But Mrs Z’s husband could face prosecution on returning to the UK. Assisting suicide is a criminal offence with a maximum jail term of 14 years.

‘The court should not frustrate indirectly the rights of Mrs Z. The role of Mr Z is now a matter for the criminal justice agencies,’ said Justice Mark Hedley in his ruling.

Deborah Annetts of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said, ‘the police and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] did not take any action to stop this, which shows that the Suicide Act is now unenforceable.’ She is pushing for euthanasia in the UK to save people travelling abroad.

Patrick Leahy of the ProLife Alliance said, ‘We look forward to the time when the UK offers palliative care to everyone to remove any desire for people to end their lives in this tragic way.’

Physician assisted suicide is legal in Finland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Oregon (USA) and Switzerland. The Swiss authorities are concerned at the number of euthanasia tourists: there were over 90 such visitors in 2003 compared with three in 2000.

Dignitas is a non-profit organisation assisting terminally ill patients like Ms Z in suicide. Swiss founder Ludwig Minelli’s view is that ‘we are all terminally ill. Life is an illness spread by sexual contact. You die at the end 100%.’ He said that most patients are in a celebratory mood hours before death, citing an instance where he shared wine with twelve relatives escorting a patient to death.

Source: 2004; 6 December, Guardian 2004; 4 December

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