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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Widow urges new laws on suicide
Paul Bennett
Paul Bennett told his wife he wanted to die at home in Swansea
The widow of a man who travelled abroad to end his life has called for assisted suicide to be decriminalised.

Michelle Bennett's husband Paul, whose Motor Neurone Disease left him paralysed and in constant pain, decided to die in a Swiss clinic.

In May 2006 Mr Bennett, of Morriston, Swansea, travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich with his family.

However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and British Medical Association (BMA) oppose assisted dying.

Dignitas is a Swiss assisted suicide group that helps those with incurable physical and mental illnesses to die with the aid of doctors and nurses.

It was founded in 1998 by the Swiss lawyer Ludwig Minelli and Swiss laws on assisted suicide hold that a person who helps someone else kill themselves in this way can be prosecuted only if they are motivated by self-interest.

According to the clinic, 77 people from Britain have chosen to die at the clinic and last year the figure was double that of 2005.

But Mrs Bennett said even though her husband had no doubts about his decision, he would have preferred to die at home.

Michelle Bennett
The worst part, because we had to go to Switzerland, was to actually leave him there, which was cruel
Michelle Bennett

"I think it's sad that we can't agree for people to end their lives the way people want to," she said.

"The worst part, because we had to go to Switzerland, was to actually leave him there, which was cruel.

"We wanted to take him home but we couldn't. If it was here it would have been so different."

When the family returned to south Wales they faced being questioned by police about his death, but the case was dropped.

"People are going to continue to do this," Mrs Bennett said.

Peaceful end

Assisted death is legal in some countries, such as Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and some doctors believe a change in the law could happen in the UK.

Professor John Wagstaff, an oncologist in Swansea, who helped patients die when he worked in the Netherlands, said: he thought Britain was closer than ever now to introducing euthanasisa.

"Because of the way things have developed in other parts of the world it's more likely that it will happen," he said.

Professor John Wagstaff
Professor John Wagstaff has helped patients die

"Euthanasia is a valuable thing for patients to have, bearing in mind that not everybody will make that decision," he added.

But recent attempts to change the law have been unsuccessful. The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was rejected by the House of Lords in May 2006.

"The majority of the BMA at their conference certainly felt it would be wrong for us to go down that road," said Dr Tony Calland, chair of the BMA medical ethics committee.

"Doctors have always worked in a patient's best interests and we believe that bringing about someone's death deliberately is a significant step away from the best interest position."

However, from October the Mental Capacity Act will allow people to make a legally binding 'living will' to refuse medication, artificial food and fluid - even if they will die as a result.

Doctors who refuse to carry out a patient's wishes could face prosecution and some doctors believe it is a step towards euthanasia.

"What concerns me is that the major proponents of living wills are the pro-euthanasia groups," said Dr Sarah Gwynne, a Swansea-based registrar in oncology.

"They see this as the start of patients being able to demand what their doctors do for them. When we get into the realm of food and fluids we are getting into the area where those boundaries start to blur."

Week In Week Out is at 2235 BST on BBC One Wales on Tuesday .

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