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
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit