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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 13:08 GMT
Clinic assists doctor's suicide
Dr Anne Turner
A retired doctor has taken her own life with the help of doctors at a controversial Swiss clinic.

Dr Anne Turner, from Bath, had a progressive and incurable degenerative disease called supranuclear palsy.

She travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich on Tuesday, where doctors gave her drugs with which to end her life.

Dr Turner, 66, who invited the BBC to travel with her to Switzerland, could only walk with a stick and faced a future in a wheelchair.

I may look as though I am all right, but I am not
Dr Anne Turner

Dismissing concerns that many people might argue that she was far from an invalid, she said that for her death would be a release.

But opponents of assisted suicide said it was wrong to take human life in this way - and argued that good quality palliative care was the right approach.

Dr Turner's condition, which also afflicted comedian Dudley Moore, also left with her with badly slurred speech, and she had some difficulty swallowing.

She could no longer drive, take a bath unaided, and had difficulty feeding her cats.

Her husband, a GP, had already suffered a lingering death from a similar illness.

Her brother too was a victim of another progressive condition - motor neurone disease.

Suicide bid

Dr Turner, a family planning expert, had already tried to commit suicide last October by using sleeping pills, anti-depressants and a plastic bag.

Dr Anne Turner
Dr Turner said her quality of life had deteriorated

Following that failed bid to take her life, her children reluctantly accepted her decision to travel to Switzerland while she still could.

Doctors at the clinic talked to Dr Turner to check that she was not being coerced.

Once satisfied she was acting of her own free will, they give her drugs to take to end her life.

She then went to a hotel to take the drugs in the presence of a nurse.

Speaking to the BBC before travelling to Switzerland, Dr Turner said: "I saw what happened to my husband, and I don't want to end up like that, and I don't want to end up like Dudley Moore, who could not walk, talk or even blink.

"I may look as though I am all right, but I am not.

Who knows what good things can come out of the last phase of a person's life?
Bishop Harries

"I notice that people talk to me as though I am a bit simple."

Dr Turner wrote to her MP calling for a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide in the UK.

A move to make it legal, sponsored by Lord Joffe, is due to be considered by the House of Lords.

"Doctors should be able to help people to die. I always quote the fact that I had a cat, and I had him put down because he was riddled with cancer, but we cannot do that with humans at all now," said Dr Turner.

She said she was angry that she was forced to go to Switzerland to end her life - but was convinced it was right thing to do.

"I am not looking forward to it, but at the same time I am. I had this awful fall last night and could not get up. I thought then that this really demonstrates that what I am going to do is right."

Son's anguish

Dr Turner's son Edward said the family had found it very difficult to come to terms with his mother's wishes.

Symptoms typically begin in one's sixties, but can start as early as the forties
Life expectancy is six to ten years from diagnosis
Causes gradual loss of brain cells, slowing movement and reducing control of walking, balance, swallowing, speaking and eye movement
Other symptoms can include emotional or personality changes
Patients eventually become confined to a wheelchair

"It's the hardest thing I have had to face. I have a very close relationship with my mother, she is one of the people I love most in the world.

"So when your mother suddenly tells you that she has a terminal illness and she is planning to take her own life it is extraordinarily hard.

"It's one thing dying from a terminal illness, but to actually choose to leave this world, and leave your family behind is an added complication to cope with."

"Until the suicide attempt we had been probably in denial that she was really going to go through with it.

"Everybody had always told her not to go ahead with it because there were so many reasons to stay.

"It was only when she went ahead with the failed attempt that we thought there is no point in messing around, let's do it properly because it is just too cruel to do it any other way."

Deborah Annetts, of the pro-euthanasia charity Dignity in Dying, said: "This case is truly heart-breaking. The government must make time in Parliament for the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

"Only this Bill could have prevented Anne Turner from taking her life early.

"Anne Turner would not have been forced out of Britain to go to Zurich whilst she was still able to travel for help to die. She would be alive today."

Life is still precious

However, the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend Richard Harries, told the BBC it was not right to always accede to a person's every request.

"We would not accede to the request of a teenager if they asked for help in killing themselves," he said.

"I know that if a person is old and debilitated and worried about the degenerative nature of their disease that is very difficult.

"But I would want to try to convince them that even if they got into a state where they were very dependent and felt very helpless and useless, their life was still precious."

Bishop Harries said many people had found caring for elderly relatives in the last phase of their life difficult, but rewarding.

"There has been a real deepening of a relationship, or things that have gone wrong in the past have been put right," he said.

"Who knows what good things can come out of the last phase of a person's life?"

Dignitas: Swiss suicide helpers
24 Jan 06 |  Health
Assisted suicide: Your reaction
24 Jan 06 |  Have Your Say
Pretty 'refused aid-to-die offer'
11 May 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Suicide man's 'dignified' death
24 Jan 03 |  England

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