Police investigate doctor who helped patients travel to Swiss suicide clinic

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The Independent Online

A doctor who helped terminally ill Britons to travel to a Swiss clinic to commit suicide is under investigation by Surrey Police.

Dr Michael Irwin, a retired GP who was struck off the medical register last year for obtaining drugs to help a friend die, admitted he had given "advice and encouragement" to five people who wanted to die at Zurich's Dignitas clinic - where a British woman, Anne Turner, died on Tuesday. He said that in the past two years, he had helped three people with advanced cancer, one with advanced multiple sclerosis and one with advanced Parkinson's disease.

He said that he accompanied a woman with MS from Glasgow to Switzerland last August to witness her death. "It was a fantastic experience," he said. "I wish to hell that people had a law in this country so that they didn't have to go all the way to Zurich."

Another woman he assisted was turned away because tests showed she would have been physically unable to swallow the fatal barbiturates drink.

Surrey Police interviewed Dr Irwin twice last year and will question him next Monday. The maximum penalty for aiding and abetting suicide in England and Wales is 14 years in prison. The 74-year-old former UN medical director and head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society has already received a police caution.

"Am I breaking the law?" he asked. "I don't know. If they died in this country then yes, probably I would be. But unless you hear otherwise, you assume it is legal."

He added: "I know I am playing with words here, but I haven't been directly involved in the suicides. I just gave them advice ." Dr Irwin said that he had turned away about 25 other people because they were not terminally ill. He said that he intended to continue helping terminally ill Britons, unless he was told he was breaking the law.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the pro-euth-anasia group Dignity in Dying, condemned Dr Irwin for "openly flouting" the law.

"If the law were changed, we wouldn't have this desperate situation where people go to Michael [Irwin], perhaps taking their lives when perhaps they don't need to. I'm surprised the Director for Public Prosecutions hasn't as yet taken any steps." Since the Dignitas clinic in 1998, more than 450 people have ended their lives there, including 42 from the UK.