British couple die in suicide pact at Swiss euthanasia clinic

Husband and wife did not tell friends of Dignitas plans

An elderly British couple have committed suicide at the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, it emerged last night.

Peter Duff, 80, and his wife Penelope, 70, are believed to be the first British couple to have ended their lives at the clinic in Zurich. They were both suffering from terminal cancer.

The couple, from Bath in Somerset, told their friends they were moving into a second home in Dorset but flew instead to the Dignitas centre where they passed away last Friday. Exactly how they chose to die is unclear.

Mrs Duff had been suffering from a rare form of stomach cancer known as GIST for more than 15 years, and was cared for by her husband, a retired businessman. He was then diagnosed with cancer of the colon, which spread to his liver and became terminal.

Last night the couple's daughter, Helena Conibear, 41, confirmed that her parents had passed away together in accordance with their wishes.

In a statement, the family said: "Peter and Penny Duff passed away peacefully together in Zurich after a long battle against their terminal cancer on the 27th February.

"Penny had fought a rare cancer, GIST, since 1992 and Peter's colon cancer had spread to his liver. Their decision in no way reflected on the wonderful and humbling care they have received from their consultant, doctors and nurses, for which the family, and they, were so appreciative."

Dignitas is now thought to have helped more than 100 Britons to die. The controversial clinic was set up in 1998 by the Swiss lawyer Ludwig Minelli. Assisted suicide remains against the law in the UK.

The couple were well known in Bath, where Mr Duff was a patron of the annual arts festival.

He was a respected expert on wine who founded the Wine Guild of the United Kingdom and was also the chairman of the Alcohol in Moderation support group, of which the couple's daughter Helena remains the executive director.

David Keeling, 64, a friend of the couple, said the news of their deaths had come as "a complete shock".

He said that most people in the neighbourhood had thought they were simply moving house.

"They have lived here in Bath for many, many years but recently told us they were moving to a property in Dorset," he said.

"We were aware they both had cancer in an advanced stage and she had had it for many years, I believe, and it was healed but then came back. We are all very sad to hear the news they were unwell and there was a rumour they were going to Dorset and not expecting to come back. But they certainly didn't tell anyone here they were going to Switzerland and that has come as a complete shock."

Mr Keeling added that he was "sympathetic" about the couple's decision.

"Peter was very proud of his situation and life and therefore the sudden onset of cancer hit him very hard," he said. "For his age, he was a bouncy and active man and this came as a terribly big blow to him because he was very proud of his active life."

The British anti-euthanasia campaign group Care Not Killing said that legalising euthanasia in the UK would be "very dangerous", as terminally ill patients would begin to see themselves as a burden to the NHS.

A spokesman said: "This is a desperately sad and unusual case of a couple in a state of distress. However, hard cases make bad law and the fact remains that, if euthanasia was ever legalised in Britain, vulnerable and seriously ill people would come under pressure to end their lives prematurely. The right to die could so easily become a duty to die."

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine