Campaigners call for assisted dying laws as Brits ‘take matters into their own hands’


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A total of 978 patients in England with one of three severe health conditions, which are often terminal, died by suicide between January 2017 and March 2020, official data has revealed

Gareth Ward with his father Norman who took his own life

Severely ill and dying Brits are more than twice as likely to end their own lives, official data has revealed.

First-of-its-kind analysis has found a total of 978 patients in England with one of three severe health conditions, which are often terminal, died by suicide between January 2017 and March 2020.

Right-to-die campaigners have warned the data shows large numbers of desperate Brits are “taking matters into their own hands” in the absence of legal routes to an assisted death in England.

The research, commissioned by former health secretary Matt Hancock following a meeting of The All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life last year, found suicide rates for patients with low-survival cancers a year after diagnosis were 2.4 times higher than the general population.







There are no legal routes to an assisted death in England
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Suicide rates were similarly high for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While those with chronic ischemic heart conditions were nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than the rest of the population.

The data follows a series of high-profile suicides by people with terminal illnesses, including Formula One boss Max Mosley and Dr Christopher Woollard, a professor with terminal cancer who stole and crashed a plane to end his life.

It also comes as the Crown Prosecution Service considers a proposed update to its guidance on prosecuting mercy killings and suicide pacts, particularly in cases where the deceased was seriously ill with a wish settled to die.







Assisted dying campaigner Suzie Jee on a demo with a picture of her father who was terminally ill when he killed himself
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Suzie Jee with her father George on her wedding day
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Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life, Andrew Mitchell, said the data was a “damning indication” of end of life choices in Britain.

While Marjorie Wallace CBE, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said traditional suicide prevention measures are not an appropriate response for those who are terminally ill and wish to ease the dying process.

She added: “It is unforgivable and inhumane that people who are dying should have to resort to ending their lives alone and abandoned, but this data indicates that this is the case for many under the current law.”

Campaign group Dignity in Dying is calling for new laws to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to be able to access an assisted death.







Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London as MPs debate and vote on the Assisted Dying Bill in 2015
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Chief executive Sarah Wootton added: “Dignity in Dying has long raised the alarm that terminally ill people are taking their own lives under the ban on assisted dying.

“This data proves that these deaths are not isolated tragedies but warning signs that the current law has serious patient safety implications for dying people which can no longer be ignored.”

However Dr Gordon McDonald, of Care Not Killing, opposes assisted dying and called for more psychological support for terminal patients.

Gareth Ward, 45, received a heartbreaking phone call moments before his terminally ill dad took his own life.







Norman was suffering due to his cancer
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Former soldier and builder Norman was in a “world of pain” after his prostate cancer spread to his bones and lungs and had recently suffered a stroke when he took the drastic action last June.

He was discovered in his garden in Gravesend, Kent, by his daughter before emergency services arrived.

The family could hardly believe the frail 75-year-old, who could hardly walk up the stairs, had been able to access the shotgun he kept in a locked box in the attic.

Gareth, from Rayleigh, Essex, told the Mirror: “I don’t feel like what he did was suicide. He was extremely ill and he was in so much pain. I can understand why he chose to do it.







Gareth said he understands why his father took his own life
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Gareth Ward pictured at home
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“I don’t like to think he has ended his life – he has ended his death. He was already dying right before our eyes.”

If Norman had been able to access an assisted death, he could have died peacefully with his loved ones around him, Gareth added.

Calling for a more “compassionate law”, he urged lawmakers to “look at the human cost” of the blanket ban on assisted dying.

“These are not just statistics, behind each of those numbers there is a heartbroken family,” he said.

Assisted dying campaigner Suzie Jee’s dad George took his own life instead of facing a painful and protracted death from oesophageal cancer.

But if he had access to a legal assisted death, his daughter believes he could have died peacefully at home with his loved ones at his bedside.







Suzie Lee is campaigning to make assisted death legal
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Suzie, 76, from Sevenoaks, Kent, told the Mirror: “It would have meant that he could die in his own bed with his family around him to say his goodbyes, instead of going off and being completely isolated and on his own in his car. That to me is criminal itself.”

And 45 years later, the former nurse could be faced with a decision on whether to end her own life at a clinic in Switzerland if assisted dying laws in Britain are not changed, following a bone marrow cancer diagnosis.

Responding to recent suicides of terminally ill Brits, she added: “These aren’t isolated tragedies, they happen every single day because people are so desperate they can’t afford costs around £10k to go to Switzerland.

“More and more people are getting desperate and taking their own lives in terribly extreme ways. I think we just need the government to listen. It’s an issue that’s becoming more and more relevant.”

The Samaritans is available 24/7 if you need to talk. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email [email protected] or head to the website to find your nearest branch. You matter.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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