Swiss suicide clinic sees number of British clients rise by 700 per cent

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The number of Britons signing up to the Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas has soared by 700 per cent in the past two years, with 30 of them ending their lives with the charity's help.

The number of Britons signing up to the Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas has soared by 700 per cent in the past two years, with 30 of them ending their lives with the charity's help.

The findings from the charity based in Zurich are higher than previously thought and come as peers prepare today to consider the laws on mercy killing in the UK. They show that more than 630 people from Britain have joined Dignitas - which offers assistance to the chronically ill who wish to commit suicide - since Reg Crew was helped to end his life there two years ago. Of those, 30 have travelled to Switzerland, where mercy killing is legal.

Not all of those who have died at Dignitas have been terminally ill. Most were facing prolonged death and suffering from degenerative neurological disorders. The confidential figures analysed by James Plaskitt, a Labour MP and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Compassion in Dying, shows that an increasing number of patients with severe degenerative illnesses were signing up with Dignitas because voluntary euthanasia is illegal in Britain.

Helping a terminally ill person to end their lives is a serious offence that can bring charges of manslaughter or murder and unless the law is changed in the UK, experts predict a huge increase in so-called "death tourism".

Within four years there are expected to be 1,865 British members of the clinic, which helps people die by administering a lethal dose of barbiturates; 100 of those are expected to travel to Switzerland to die. The figures, based on confidential information from Dignitas, will put new pressure on the Government to review the law.

Today's report by a special House of Lords committee set up to examine whether doctors should be given the power to help terminally ill people end their lives will consider plans put forward by the crossbench peer Lord Joffe. He wants Britain to introduce a system like the one in the US state of Oregon, where doctors can help people who are certified as terminally ill and within six months of dying to end their lives.

A spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said: "A negative report on Monday from the Lords will fuel an increase in death tourism."

In 2003, Reg Crew, 74, became the second British man to travel to Zurich to commit suicide, the first to do so publicly. Mrs Z, a woman suffering from an incurable brain disease, was not stopped by the courts in December last year from travelling to Switzerland. There was an inquest after Bob and Jenny Stokes, who were seriously but not terminally ill, committed suicide there.

Lesley Close travelled to Zurich to be with her brother, John, who suffered from motor neurone disease, when he died. Ms Close, who has also seen the Dignitas figures, said yesterday: "If you had seen my brother ... He couldn't speak, stand or swallow. His fervent wish was to have control of the last moments of his life. I am driven by John's death at Dignitas to try to change the law in Britain. He would have preferred to die in the bay window of his flat at sunset with the help of his own GP."

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