First Briton ends life through assisted suicide at Dignitas because of dementia

83-year-old travelled to Swiss clinic with family

An 83-year-old-man is believed to be the first Briton to end his life through an assisted suicide at a Dignitas clinic because he was in the early stages of dementia.

His family, none of whom have been named, supported his decision to end his life, according to pro-euthanasia campaigner Michael Irwin, 81, a retired GP who helped secure a psychiatric evaluation for him in January.

Mr Irwin said the man’s wife made all of the travel arrangements and accompanied her husband to the Switzerland-based clinic, where he ended his life. Mr Irwin did not accompany the family. Although he did not want to reveal the identity of the family or any personal details, speaking to The Independent, he did say that the man was mentally capable of choosing to end his own life.

Mr Irwin said: “The family have been very supportive of his decision.

"He was a sensible, professional person in the early stages of dementia and knew what dementia will involve. The family are very pleased that it all happened the way he wanted it, with dignity.”

Mr Irwin was approached by the man's family in January this year requesting his help in finding a psychiatrist to perform an evaluation. A psychiatrist reviewed the man’s metal capabilities and established that he was mentally competent. His wife then organised their travel arrangements to Switzerland.

The Dignitas association was established in 1998 and offers anyone who has an incurable or unendurable illness an assisted suicide at their Swiss or German clinics. Since beginning 15 years ago, they have assisted approximately 200 British suicides.

To receive assistance from Dignitas, people are required to become members of the association, prove that they are of sound mind and judgement and possess a minimum level of mobility in order to self-administer the fatal drug used in the suicide.

Those who apply for an assisted suicide and pass all required evaluations from doctors and psychiatrists are flown over to the clinic and provided with a lethal barbiturate which is dissolved into drinking water.

Whilst assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, it is a criminal offence in the UK and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. Mr Irwin has travelled to Dignitas with four families and was investigated by authorities over his involvement in the assisted suicide of Raymond Cutkelvin, but has never been arrested or charged with an offence.

He said: “I’ve been campaigning since the mid-1990s. I was a chairman of what is now called Dignity in Dying from 1996 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2003. I’m a retired GP, so I think it should be every person’s right to have the option of a dignified death. In four European countries it is possible for terminally ill, disabled and unwell, elderly people to have a dignified doctor assisted suicide – are we so different to the Dutch? I don’t think so.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own