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21 Jan 2003 15:16
A pensioner paralysed by motor neurone disease ended his life yesterday with a lethal drink of barbiturates.
Reginald Crew (74) a former Ford worker from Liverpool, took the potion in a flat in Zurich, having gone to Switzerland because under British law it is an offence to assist in suicide.
He had the help of Dignitas, a non-profit Swiss organisation set up in 1998 by Ludwig Minelli, a journalist and human rights campaigner, so that the seriously ill might die with dignity. It is thought to have helped more than 100 people.
Crew died in the presence of his wife, Wyn (71) and daughter, Jan (41) He was paralysed from the neck down, and his wife had cared for him since he was diagnosed with the incurable disease four years ago.
He is believed to be the second Briton to go to Dignitas but the first to have gone public with his intention.
Last night Minelli said that he and a doctor had talked with Crew when he arrived at their Zurich office.
“He was extremely calm, and extremely happy that he had found Dignitas which gave him this possibility.
“The physician then wrote a prescription for him.
“After half an hour, he was prepared to drink [the mixture of water and barbiturates]. This would have made him fall asleep within two to five minutes. After that he fell into a deep coma and then stopped breathing.”
Minelli said he was not at the flat, because he never attends the deaths of people who seek Dignitas’s help, but an experienced nurse from the organisation was.
“He told me that he was very angry that he had had to leave Britain to have his will fulfilled,” said Minelli. “And I am also angry.
“I cannot understand why such reasonable human beings as Britons are not capable of following what the holy saint Thomas More wrote in his Utopia in 1517.
“He wrote then of exactly what we have given to Mr Crew—the possibility to leave this life, when life is only causing pains.”
Crew used to enjoy golf and hiking, but his health had deteriorated rapidly in recent months; he was able to eat only porridge and soup. He said that the job of caring for him was killing his wife.
He paid Â£50 to join Dignitas after seeing a TV programme about it. At that time he said: “I am just existing in a living hell. I don’t want to wait to die any longer. I have spoken to all my family about my decision, and they agree with me. I’m not ashamed I want to die and I’m not a coward, I’m fully prepared to meet my maker.
“When my legs went last year I could see my life was going backwards. I don’t want to be kept alive like an animal in a cage, I want to be put down now. It’s really taken a turn for the worse in the last few months. I’m living in absolute agony, and every day is getting harder.”
The most recent of several challenges to Britain’s ban on assisted suicide was by Diane Pretty, who went to court to claim she had the right to choose when to die. Her arguments were rejected, and the European court upheld the ruling.
Swiss law does not state that assisted suicide is legal but the practice is considered as an “humane act”. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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