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1981: Euthanasia chief jailed over suicides

The secretary of the UK's pro-euthanasia group Exit has been jailed for two and a half years for aiding and abetting suicide.

Nicholas Reed was found guilty on three counts of aiding and abetting suicide and one of conspiracy to aid and abet.

Mark Lyons, 70, Mr Reed's co-accused and the man who helped people commit suicide by providing pills and alcohol was given a two-year suspended sentence.

"If you get into trouble in the next two years you are going to cop it," the judge told him.

Age factor

He was spared a jail term after the judge took into account his age and the fact he had already served 325 days awaiting the trial.

"I take into account the fact that you are not as young as you used to be. But you are not as old as I am," said the judge, Mr Justice Lawson.

The judge added that he believed Mr Lyons had learned his lesson and was "not going to start messing around with plastic bags and pills anymore".

The pair were tracked down after the death of a multiple sclerosis sufferer. As a matter of routine her death was reported to the coroner and a post-mortem revealed she died from taking a barbiturate drug with alcohol.

Two women at the inquest, who had been at the dead woman's house the day before she died, identified Mr Lyons as a visitor to the house.

When police went to Mr Lyons' flat in West Hampstead they found thousands of pills and tablets and several diaries that outlined visits to people wanting to commit suicide.

In court Nicholas Reed described how he had sent Mr Lyons on missions to "comfort and console" people but said he had no idea that he was helping people commit suicide.

In Context
Following the verdicts Exit released a statement reiterating their aim to change the law "so that everyone in Britain will have a right to medical help to secure an easy death if life has become intolerable because of incurable, painful or incapacitating illness".

The British Medical Association responded by saying: "The guidance given by Exit is squalid and bears no comparison with the help which can be offered by the NHS for those in need."

Nicholas Reed had his sentence reduced on appeal to 18 months.

Exit started out as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 1935 but changed its name to give itself a more punchy and dynamic image.

In 2002, Holland became the first country to legalise euthanasia.

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