British couple in Swiss clinic suicide pact

Terminally ill couple choose to end their lives

A wealthy British couple who both had terminal cancer have committed suicide together at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Peter and Penny Duff, from Bath, are the first Britons to die at the controversial clinic since the Lord Chief Justice signalled that anyone helping a terminally ill person to organise an assisted suicide abroad would not be prosecuted.

Their death comes as doctors are to be told by the medical regulator to give terminally ill patients a greater say over how and when they die. In a fundamental shift, draft guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) warns that doctors could be struck off if they refuse to withhold potentially life-prolonging treatment.

It advises doctors to give consideration to patients’ wishes if they wish for life support to be withheld or do not want to be resuscitated in the event of organ failure. Where a patient’s wishes are explicit, acting against them ‘should be deemed to be causing harm’.

Mr Duff, 80, a retired wine consultant, and his 70-year-old wife are believed to have been helped to end their lives last Friday with an overdose of barbiturates. The couple’s daughter Helena Conibear, said that her parents had done a ‘beautiful and remarkable thing’.

In England and Wales, assisting a suicide remains a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail, although to date no one who has accompanied a relative to Dignitas has been prosecuted.

The only other British couple known to have committed suicide together at the clinic were Bob and Jenny Stokes, from Bedfordshire, who were both in their 50s when they were helped to die in 2003. Neither was terminally ill. Mr Stokes had epilepsy and his wife multiple sclerosis. Swiss law does not require people seeking assisted suicides to be dying already.

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