Fury at charity that helped couple kill themselves


The family of 'suicide tourists' Robert and Jennifer Stokes last night demanded the closure of the euthanasia charity which helped them to die.

Relatives of the British couple are furious that the Swiss charity Dignitas assisted them even though they were not terminally ill.

'I would like to see Dignitas shut down and I would like the authorities both here and in Switzerland to investigate how this could be allowed to happen,' said Dorothy Killackey, sister of 53-year-old Mrs Stokes.

The women's mother, Doris Moorey, 86, added: 'It shouldn't be allowed, not unless someone is terminally ill. What on earth was the clinic doing helping two people commit suicide without any proof that they had terminal illnesses?'

The family's calls for Dignitas to be closed were echoed by MPs and antieuthanasia campaigners who warned that more Britons will be encouraged to follow in the footsteps of Mrs Stokes and her 59-year-old husband.

Tory health spokesman Tim Loughton said: 'This is a particularly worrying development in death tourism and sends out all the wrong signals.

'Something as fundamental as this, that is illegal in this country, should not be available by simply crossing the Channel. It needs to be investigated as a matter of urgency.'

The Medical Ethics Alliance pressure group said it was 'saddened and dismayed' that people with treatable diseases were being helped to die.

Although euthanasia is banned in Britain, it is legal in Switzerland as long as the fatal dose is self-administered and the person is deemed to be making a rational decision.

They can be assisted in their suicide so long as the individual helping them does not do so out of a 'self-interested motivation'.

Under Swiss law the person's health is immaterial but, under its own guidelines, Dignitas offers assistance only to those who are terminally ill, suffering intolerable pain or 'unreasonable handicaps'.

It has also helped several mentally ill people take their own lives. It emerged yesterday that Mr Stokes and his wife had contacted the Swiss organisation some time before their deaths on April 1.

According to a close family source, that first attempt to enlist the help of Dignitas was rebuffed.

Although Ludwig Minelli, the lawyer who runs the non-profit making organisation, would not comment on the case, the implication was that at that time they did not meet its medical criteria. But by the end of last month the situation would appear to have changed.

The couple were seen getting into a taxi outside their flat in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, before heading to Zurich on March 31.

On arrival they were seen, individually, by two separate doctors who would have studied their medical records and established they were of a sound mind and knew what they were about to do.

Hours later the couple were dead, having taken an overdose of barbiturates prepared by Dignitas staff.

As has happened with others Dignitas has helped to end their lives, their deaths were then investigated by a public prosecutor. Zurich district attorney Edwin Luscher has been passed their medical notes. In them Mr Stokes is described as an 'invalid' with epilepsy, while his wife is said to have had multiple sclerosis.

But Mrs Killackey said: 'As far as we are concerned they were not terminally ill. She did not have MS. Surely she must have had to show medical paperwork, so where did it come from?'

Her mother added: 'It's stunned us, they certainly never told us about their plans.'

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