Pensioner to visit Swiss suicide clinic in Sussex’s first assisted death bid

A PENSIONER is preparing to leave her Eastbourne care home to travel to a suicide clinic in Switzerland because she can no longer bare to live with her crippling arthritis and deteriorating eyesight.

Controversial former GP and vocal assisted-suicide supporter Dr Michael Irwin confirmed to the Herald earlier this week that a 91-year-old local woman planned to make the trip in the next few months.

The elderly lady, who wishes to remain anonymous, got in touch with the 79-year-old campaigner who will now accompany her overseas after hearing she had no close relatives to go with her.

Dr Irwin said, “Generally you feel it should be a relative or close friend who goes but her husband is dead [and] she has no children.

“She has extreme arthritis and has decided ‘I can’t go on much longer’.”

If the lady does goes through with the death as planned she will become the first person in Sussex to have used the infamous Dignitas clinic to end her own life through assisted suicide – something which remains illegal in this country.

And, because of the law, Dr Irwin, who lives in nearby Hove, could face prosecution, although it is fair to say he is well aware of the risks.

Dr Irwin has been a vocal supporter of the right for people to end their own lives and in 2009 performed a similar service by escorting Londoner Raymond Cutkelvin to Switzerland after the 58-year-old decided he no longer wanted to live in pain.

And earlier this week he claimed that public opinion was coming round to his way of thinking, particularly as assisted suicide increasingly benefits from high profile supporters like the popular author Terry Pratchett.

Dr Irwin said, “The Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS) has commissioned three ICM telephone polls, in February and July 2010 and last March, which all showed either 67 per cent or 66 per cent support for our main objective – to change UK law so that very elderly, mentally competent individuals, who are suffering from various medical problems can be legally allowed to receive a doctor’s assistance to die, if this is their persistent request.”

SOARS, of which Dr Irwin is a prominent member, is lobbying for a change in the law to allow two doctors and a legal witness to agree when a patient is mentally competent and not being pressured to die by relatives, and then for the elderly person to be provided with the necessary medication to take their own life after a two-month contemplation period.

However, the pensioner’s decision has been questioned by a host of anti-suicide voices, including Eastbourne’s MP Stephen Lloyd.

“I am very sad that a constituent has decided to fly to Switzerland for an assisted suicide,” explained the MP.

“I am not a supporter of euthanasia and though I respect her right to take responsibility for her own situation I cannot, in all conscience, endorse her actions.

“I would encourage her to reconsider her decision and if there is anything I can do at all I will happily meet her.”

The repercussions for Dr Irwin – who rejects the ‘Dr Death’ tag given to him by a string of tabloid newspapers – could be far more severe.

A spokesman for Sussex Police said it would be contacting the controversial figure to establish if and when the journey to Dignitas will take place.

They said, “The Suicide Act 1961 states that a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable to prosecution.

“We shall be getting in touch with Dr Irwin in relation to the report that he may be taking a woman abroad to be helped to die.”

More than 700 Britons have taken out membership of the Dignitas clinic – including the local 91-year-old – and around 15 per cent of people who eventually choose to die there are from the UK.