A posthumous euthanasia letter to UK MPs
As in New Zealand, assisting a terminally ill person to end his or her life is a criminal offence in the UK, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. This extends to helping a person travel to Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal.
On average, every eight days someone travels from the UK to Switzerland to die, at a cost of about $NZ20,000. There have been no prosecutions in the UK arising from this practice, so for practical purposes voluntary euthanasia is only available to those with the financial means.
A case that has attracted much publicity lately is that of Geoffrey Whaley who, before his death, sent an open letter to MPs to draw attention to his plight. His letter follows:
Dear Members of Parliament,
By the time you read this, I will be dead.
On Thursday 7th February 2019, I will have taken medication that will end my life, surrounded by my wife, Ann, my children, Alix and Dominic, and a couple of my dearest friends at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland. With their love and support I have been able to fulfil my final wish: to be in control of my end, rather than endure the immense suffering motor neurone disease had in store for me.
I want to impress upon you the anguish me and my family have experienced, not because of this awful illness (though of course this has been incredibly difficult), but because of the law against assisted dying in this country. The blanket ban on assisted dying has not only forced me to spend thousands of pounds and endure months of logistical hurdles in order to secure a peaceful and dignified death overseas, but it has meant that my final weeks of life have been blighted by visits from social services and police.
Since my diagnosis of MND, an incurable, terminal illness, in 2016, I felt as though bombs have been dropping on me. I gradually lost the use of all four limbs. My ability to speak, swallow and breathe began rapidly deteriorating. I knew my death was inevitable and unavoidable, but I remained strong for my family. I am 80 years old and have lived a full life. I did not fear death, but I did fear the journey. I simply wanted to cut this suffering short by a few months. When I eventually got the “green light” from Dignitas, a weight lifted; I was able to get on with living without the constant mental anguish over my death.
But then, as I was saying my final goodbyes and preparing myself for the end, the final, biggest bomb dropped and I could no longer keep it together. This bomb was in fact an anonymous phone call to social services who informed the police of my plans to go to Switzerland. Within hours Ann and I were facing a criminal investigation. The thought that I might not make it to Switzerland, or that, if I did, Ann might be facing 14 years in jail for helping me, was almost too much to bear.
In 52 years of marriage, Ann had not seen me cry. The day we were contacted by the police, I sobbed.
The law in this country robbed me of control over my death. It forced me to seek solace in Switzerland. Then it sought to punish those attempting to help me get there. The hypocrisy and cruelty of this is astounding. Though it is perfectly legal for me make arrangements and travel to Dignitas by myself, the minute anyone else “assists” me in any way — which is essential, due to my condition — they are liable for prosecution.
I had the chance, just over a week before my death, to speak to some MPs and Peers about my experience and my adamant wish that the law should be changed. The overwhelming reaction in the room was one of agreement; however, I am aware that despite huge public support for an assisted dying law, most members of parliament currently oppose it.
I spoke to one MP who had voted against the last assisted dying bill in 2015. The law being proposed was limited to terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months, with strict inbuilt safeguards to protect the vulnerable and anyone else who has not made a clear decision of their own volition. When I pressed her on why she felt people like me should be denied a say over our own death and be forced to suffer, she was unable to articulate an answer.
I want MPs to know that change is urgently needed and that it is achievable — over 100 million people in several American and Australian states and across Canada are covered by assisted dying laws which allow choice to dying people and protection to others. No family should ever have to endure the torment we have undergone in recent weeks, but it will be easier to bear knowing that by sharing it we can contribute to future change. I sincerely hope that you will truly listen to our story and see the suffering you are inflicting by upholding the status quo.
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
February 7, 2019