First Briton to die at Swiss euthanasia clinic had fled Nazis

Former civil servant, 90, ended his life with a dose of barbiturates
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The Independent Online

A former senior civil servant who became the first British man to die with the help of a Swiss clinic had fled Nazi Austria for a new life in the United Kingdom in his youth.

The 90-year-old Briton, who only wanted to be known in reports by his first name, Chris, died on Friday afternoon in the company of his wife and a close friend after being cleared by British and Swiss doctors to fly to Switzerland to take a lethal dose of barbiturates.

According to a London hospital psychiatrist's report, seen by The Independent, Chris described how in his early life, after the death of his parents, he fled Austria and then Prague to escape persecution by the Nazis. He arrived in Britain in 1938, teaching physics and maths in Newcastle, before being interned on the Isle of Man as an "enemy alien".

After the war he returned to teaching at Birmingham University before leaving education to become a senior official at the Manpower Services Commission. Chris had been married three times and had been with his current wife for 30 years.

To end his life, the former civil servant, who lived in north London, used a little known group EX International, which says it offers assisted suicides based on Christian principles, and is estimated to be £2,000 cheaper than Dignitas – a long-established clinic based in Zurich.

Chris did not suffer terminal illness but said he wished to end his life while he was still of sound mind and before his body failed him. Although not terminally ill, in the past decade his health had deteriorated, and in 2006 he required a colostomy bag after being diagnosedwith a carcinoma of the colon.

Under British law it is a criminal offence, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment, to aid or abet in the death of another. British police had tried to contact Chris and his family shortly before they left for Switzerland last week.

The psychiatrist who wrote the report said: "When asked about the background to his decision, he told me the colostomy had not been a significant issue, psychologically.

"Far more important had been increasing problems with vertigo and short and medium-term memory due, as he understood it, to cerebral vascular problems."

He added: "He had to write himself lots of notes not to forget day-to-day items ... and he had difficulties using his computer with which he used to be very skilled. He had difficulty planning journeys, and found he could not recognise people he met socially, even quite recently ... [He] emphasised that although he was managing to function with his wife's help, it was clear his faculties were on the decline, and he was very concerned, anticipating that, before very long, he would not be able to cope with day-to-day life."

The report found Chris showed no signs of serious depression and that he had the "mental capacity" to decide to end his own life. His death reflects a growing demand from UK residents seeking to end their lives with dignity, and at a time of their own choosing.

Nearly 100 Britons have already been assisted in suicide by Dignitas. Another UK resident, a woman in her mid-60s suffering an aggressive form of cancer, is believed to have been assisted in her death by EX International in summer 2007.

Dr Michael Irwin, a former GP and friend of Chris, spoke to him in the days before he died: "He was determined to end his life before his body failed him, and he had been working with Ex International to achieve that for more than a year."

Dr Irwin had planned to be with Chris in Berne, where the EX International clinic is run, but because of his own ill-health, could not make the trip. Nevertheless he was interviewed by two senior Surrey police officers who had questioned him under the Suicide Act.

"Chris spent the day before his death sight-seeing in Berne visiting museums with his wife. I have confirmed with the clinic in Switzerland that he died early on Friday afternoon," he said.

Assisted suicides: Those who choose to end their lives in Switzerland

*A former docker, Reg Crew, left, is thought to have been the first British person to have travelled to die at Dignitas. That was in January 2003. The 74-year-old had suffered from motor neurone disease for more than four years. Before drinking water laced with barbiturates, he told a nurse at the Zurich clinic: "I want to die today."

*The family of a 76-year-old man who died at Dignitas called for the clinic to be closed in May 2004. Gordon Hurst, above, of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, had Parkinson's disease and told relatives his plans in letters he arranged to be sent after his death. One relative said he had deeply missed his wife of more than 50 years, Jean, who died three years earlier.

*At 23, a badly injured rugby player, Daniel James, is the youngest Briton to be assisted in his suicide in a Swiss clinic where he travelled to on 12 September this year. He had suffered a collapsed spine in a scrum during a training session at Nuneaton Rugby Club in March 2007, which left him paralysed from the chest down.