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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Is assisted suicide ever justified?
Reg Crew and his wife Win, who will not be charged for helping him to die
A Tory MP has called for an investigation into the seeming suicide pact at a Swiss clinic of a British couple who were not terminally ill.

Jennifer Stokes had diabetes and back problems and her husband Robert was epileptic but both were able-bodied. The pair are thought to have died of a barbiturate overdose at a flat hosted by the euthanasia charity Dignitas.

The widow of Reginald Crew who had an assisted suicide in January has learnt there is "insufficient evidence" and "no public interest" in pressing charges against her for helping her husband to die.

Is euthanasia ever justified for people who are unwell but not fatally ill? Should assisted suicide be made illegal in Europe?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Allowing them to do this makes neglect more acceptable
Jane, UK
I disagree that we should accept people wanting to die for 'whatever reason' is ok. Many people commit suicide because of suffering due to society treating them badly. Allowing them to do this makes neglect more acceptable, and shirks the responsibility we have to treat fellow humans with dignity and as autonomous individuals. Leaving sick people with little money or support until they commit suicide is tantamount to cruelty and neglect. But it's cheaper.
Jane, UK

The reasons behind the suicide should be of no concern to anyone. The fact is that the only person who should have a right over when I die is ME! What gives anyone the right to assume that they know what is better for me than I do?

Social responsibilities are more important than the satisfaction of individual desires. Depressed people, disillusioned youth, victims of domestic violence could be considered 'unwell'. If we were start assisting suicide, for whatever reason, then we may not be able to shut the gate later.
Malcolm, Australia

Yes, I do believe that assisted suicide can be justified. If the person is terminally ill and has no quality of life and has made a request when mentally stable that they aren't left to "vegetate" then it should be allowed. However, it shouldn't be allowed for able bodied people who may have illnesses but feel sorry for themselves.
Andrea, UK

How very brave of them. Whilst it is unfortunate that they felt unable to tell their family of their intentions, there may have been good reasons - in their own minds. I hope that their family will come to know that they are at peace.
Simon, UK

Have we witnessed the assisted suicide of people who were just depressed?e
Bill, UK
This case starts to tread very dangerous ground with a couple who were not seriously ill, not aged and, one can only guess from the description, not suffering an appalling quality of life because of their illness. Have we just witnessed the assisted suicide of two people who were just depressed? It should be the duty of companies like Dignitas to put their 'clients' through full psychiatric evaluation and ensure that relatives are aware of what is about to happen.
Bill, UK

Euthanasia seems to be a slippery slope of moral degradation. Hospices although not perfect but improving, offers the terminally ill the opportunity to die quietly, painlessly and with dignity without resorting to "suicide". For those suffering in the UK because of lack of efficiency of the NHS, the logical course would be to reform the NHS to provide necessary and timely services; not encourage suicide of long-suffering patients. "Soylent Green" will not be far behind should society continue to devalue life.
Gary Goldstein, USA

No person should ever be "forced" to live if they don't wish to go on. There are truly not many choices we can make in this world, but in choosing our own time of death, that is something everyone should have the right to do. I'm not saying that people who are severely depressed shouldn't be treated and cared for to ascertain if they really want to die or not, but it most certainly shouldn't be illegal to want to die. That is yet another holdover to the various Christian religions dominance of western life. No-one has the right to tell another that they "must live" if that is not what they want for themselves.
Eric, Las Vegas, United States

It has put the cause of assisted suicide back years
Cheryl Emmanuel, Jersey Channel Islands
I think in this instance Dignitas have handled things so badly it has put the cause of assisted suicide back years - where was the insistence on a psychiatric assessment, which I think should be done in all these cases? I agree that assisted suicide may be justified in some case, but not this one. Above all I just feel deeply sorry for the Stokes family.
Cheryl Emmanuel, Jersey Channel Islands

Human rights legislation should ensure that your life is yours, and yours alone. If you wish to end your life it is no one's business but your own. Why these self righteous busy-bodies think they have more say over your life than you do is beyond belief.
Fred, England

There is no justification for assisted suicide, the term is an oxymoron. Suicide is a solo action taken against one's self, someone assisting in another persons death is committing murder. If one is set on killing themselves they should do it themselves, causing another person to do it for them expresses a lack of ethical character. Own up to your own choices, do not pawn them off on others. The need to call in someone else to do the dirty work, may also express a subtle message that they are not honestly ready to die.
Phil Hilliker, USA

I hope a full investigation is made by the British police
Tony, England
In this case I find the whole incident quite sickening. Two, non-terminally ill people being assisted to die is not only deeply macabre, but immoral. I would hope a full investigation is made by the British police, and if necessary, ensuing criminal charges. If this is left unchecked, then where is the boundary to be drawn between murder and euthanasia?
Tony, England

I had no choice in being born in this world, I should have the choice when I want to leave it. It's a sad thing that there's a trend in this society that you have to justify yourselves for anything and everything even something as personal as your own death. If you decide you don't want to continue your life for any reason, the choice should be yours not your family or the government. I'm sure people who decide to opt for assisted suicide, would have been fully informed by the charity.
Ilse Hagley, UK

I want to end my life long before reaching "frail old age", and all the unpleasant but not terminal conditions that go with it e.g. Alzheimer's disease, constant pain etc. The care package for people in this condition is pretty grim unless you have loads of money, and even then I would not want it!
Maggie, UK

When you look at how we would treat an animal that had an incurable disease or was too expensive to treat, it makes you wonder how killing a suffering animal is any different to killing a suffering human that has no hope of a better life. If there is a god I doubt it would differentiate between killing a human or killing a dog. Our lives are our own and we should have a right to end it any way we see fit. Of course, there is a risk that people will use euthanasia as an easy way out when there are other alternatives, but for the terminally ill the option should always be there for them.
Gavin, Wales

If a person does not enjoy life, whatever the cause, they should be entitled to purchase a service which would end that life. Let us see an "assisted suicide" shop in every major city. Those who object need not use the facility, but should not let their views make others suffer.
John Lavender, England

Life is sacred no matter what quality it is
James Clarke, UK
Why not take it one step further - why not leave it up to the government? Once someone is no longer useful off to the "glue factory" like the horse in Animal Farm. Life is sacred no matter what quality it is; it should be preserved because once it's snuffed out its gone forever.
James Clarke, UK

When someone is disabled, they deserve the right to be assisted in such a way that they have the same choices as more able-bodied people. If they want to die, we should help them, just as we help them to live. However, I am not convinced that this people were not taken advantage of by this group. They seemed to be depressed, and it is quite possible, with the right treatment, they would have been living normal happy lives in a few years time.
Katharine Mayer, Germany

Euthanasia is a remedy worse than any known disease and it is ironic to say that it is done to alleviate pain. Does anyone know the pain of death? Euthanasia in my view point is immoral; we lack control over our birth, and we shouldn't have control over our death. Legalizing euthanasia parallels legalizing murder or killings.
Aisha, USA/Pakistan

Suicide is not illegal in this, and most civilised countries. It is however difficult to do quickly, painlessly and with certainty of success. As such we should allow assistance to anyone wishing to die, regardless of circumstances. Counselling would, of course, be part of the assistance. No-one has the right to deny the individual a humane death.
David, UK

The danger here is that a trend may be set
Sam C, Cambridge
The danger here is that a trend may be set. People might in long term feel that euthanasia is the 'done' thing for society's sake. Yet these people may want to live as long as they can for whatever reason. People are classified as being mentally ill if they try to commit suicide, perhaps by allowing this to happen we are doing society an injustice?
Sam C, Cambridge, UK

I believe that all individuals should have the right to choose to die. Controlled euthanasia has to be more preferable than suddenly committing an unplanned suicide. At least the individuals family can then be given time to come to terms with their decision. This should apply to all individuals irrespective of age or health.
Joanna, UK

Many of us are lacking in essential nutrients that affect mood and outlook, especially in this era of fast food. If you're not eating right, it's easy to slip into a long-term negative frame of mind in which relatively small issues assume enormous importance (just look at the increase in road rage and stress over the last few years). I don't think assisted suicide should be made illegal, but I do think that anyone thinking about it should seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist first.
Chris, UK

I bet Labour will want to cut the waiting lists for euthanasia as well
Phun, UK
What's to stop depressives from taking their own lives by this method? It depends what people term as unwell. After watching most of my nearest and dearest die from cancer due to NHS waiting times for diagnosis and then treatment I think it should be more widely available. I bet Labour will want to cut the waiting lists for euthanasia as well.
Phun, UK

I totally agreed with Reginald Crew when he travelled to Switzerland to die, and I believed Diane Pretty should have won her court case. However, in the case of this couple, neither were terminally ill and they were both still young. I really believe that something could have been done for them medically to help relieve their conditions rather than them having to take this drastic way out.
Anna, UK

My father died of Motor Neurone Disease and was in a lots of pain towards the end, and asked many times for help to die. I'm fully in favour of euthanasia for terminally ill people with no way back, but this Bedfordshire couple have irresponsibly taken this Swiss loop hole for granted and setting back the possible legalisation of euthanasia in the UK for many years and prolonged the suffering for many UK terminally ill who wish to die in dignity.
Chris Pirnie, England

My mother made me promise that... I would get a pillow and suffocate her
After she learned that she was sick, my mother made me promise that if she ever became so ill that she had no life I would get a pillow and suffocate her. She is the most important person in my life, and it would break my heart to do so, but I would keep my promise, and despite the obvious threat of jail. I just think that it's sad that a human being should go to these lengths to end their own life, when every other decision they have made they have made alone.

This 'clinic' ought to be shut down immediately by the Swiss authorities, as it is nothing less than a Death factory. It is time the British government had a long hard look at the ethics of voluntary euthanasia in this country, that way the Swiss Clinic would not have to exist. There ARE I believe instances where a person should be allowed to choose to end their own life.
Ian, Scotland

If you are terminally ill you should have the right to die with dignity. Long term care of people who have such diseases can be emotionally crushing for those involved as they sit by powerless to help when you slip into a state of helplessness that can last for years. There is no inconvenience caused by ending your life in a organised and dignified fashion, and can in a lot of cases help friends and family prepare to mourn ones passing and remember you as you choose.
Adam, UK

his couple should not have been allowed to commit suicide
Gemma, UK
I was horrified when I read this story. This couple should not have been allowed to commit suicide - it seems to me that they need psychiatric help first. I agree that assisted suicide should be an option where the patient has a terminal illness and is clearly suffering, but for two relatively healthy people with illnesses that can be controlled by medication to kill themselves, it's appalling.
Gemma, UK

If an individual chooses to end their life for whatever reason, who are we to criticise? It is our democratic right to end our life when we please.
Keith, UK

I know that if I was old, suffering and had absolutely no quality of life, then I would want to do the same. What does it have to do with the government what I choose to do with my life?
Sarah, England

Sadly, I would imagine that this would be the toughest decision in a person's life and I'm fairly certain it would not be made in haste. I don't think it should be illegal but there would be concerns about minimum age, family/personal counselling, drug problems, etc.
Brannon Rose, London, UK

You have lived your life and only you have made every major decision in it
Lorraine, MK
Yes. If you are terminally ill and your family are hurting to see you in a situation where they can no longer help you. You should be able to die. You have lived your life and only you have made every major decision in it. Your last wish should be granted. People say it's in the hands of God. I say to them God gave us a mind to make up since birth.
Lorraine, MK

I think this is a matter for personal choice and I would rather such people choose the manner, time and ease of their passing rather than intentionally stepping in front of a bus or a train, causing trauma for those who see the aftermath.
Dan M, UK

It's academic to ask after the fact in this case. It's up to the individuals, but loving someone enough to die with them isn't something I'd want for myself or any partner in future.
Flynn, England

No charges over assisted suicide
09 Apr 03  |  Merseyside
Dignitas: Swiss suicide helpers
20 Jan 03  |  Europe

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