Dignitas accepts the first case of suicide for dementia from the UK

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 03 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3595
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

An 83 year old man has become the first known Briton to have ended his life at the Dignitas assisted suicide centre in Switzerland because he was diagnosed with dementia.

The professional man, who was in the early stages of the condition, travelled to Zurich with his wife in March, but his death has only now been made public.

Michael Irwin, a retired general practitioner and campaigner for the legalisation of doctor assisted suicide in the United Kingdom, told the BMJ that he had asked a psychiatrist friend to assess the man to ensure that he was mentally competent to take the decision, a Dignitas requirement.

He said: “He was an 83 year old man who knew very well all the implications of what dementia would mean for him and his family. His wife, who went with him, said it was the most dignified way it could happen. She was full of admiration for the Swiss for how they handled it.”

Some 200 Britons, most diagnosed with terminal illnesses, have chosen to end their lives in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is lawful. Polls show that most Britons support the legalisation of doctor assisted dying in the UK, but the latest case has prompted debate about who should qualify.

A former lord chancellor and Labour peer, Charles Falconer, has introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Lords, which would allow a doctor to prescribe a fatal dose of medication for a terminally ill patient. Only those expected to live for six months or less would be eligible under the bill, which is expected to be debated in the autumn.1

The Assisted Dying Bill, which would apply to England and Wales, followed an inquiry by an independent commission chaired by Falconer and partly funded by Terry Pratchett, the bestselling author, who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Irwin was struck off the medical register in 2005 for obtaining pills in his own name to help a friend who was dying of prostate cancer to commit suicide. By the time he reached his friend, he was too ill to take the pills.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3595


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