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

83-year-old travelled to Swiss clinic with family

Heather Saul
Thursday 30 May 2013 15:12 BST
The 83-year-old travelled to the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland
The 83-year-old travelled to the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland (Getty)

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.”

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