Conductor, wife join in suicide


Although friends who spoke to the British media said Downes was not known to be terminally ill, he wanted to die with his ailing wife, who had been his partner for more than a half century.

The couple’s middle-aged children said in an interview that they accompanied their father, who was 85, and their mother, Joan, who was 74, on the flight last Tuesday from London to Zurich, where the Swiss group Dignitas helped arrange the double suicide. On Friday, the children said they watched, weeping, as their parents drank “a small quantity of clear liquid” before lying down on adjacent beds and holding hands.

“Within a couple of minutes they were asleep, and died within 10 minutes,” Caractacus Downes, the couple’s 41-year-old son, said. “They wanted to be next to each other when they died.”

He added, “It is a very civilised way to end your life, and I don’t understand why the legal position in this country doesn’t allow it.”

“After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems,” the Downes children said.

Inquiry
Scotland Yard said that it had been informed on Monday “that a man and a woman” from London had died in Switzerland, and that it was “looking into the circumstances”. The information that prompted the police inquiry appeared to have been given voluntarily by the Downes family, who, Caractacus Downes said, “didn’t want to be untruthful about what had happened”.

“Even if they arrest us and send us to prison, it would have made no difference because it is what our parents wanted,” he said.

Attempting suicide is a criminal offence in Britain, and so is assisting others in killing themselves. But since the Zurich clinic run by Dignitas was established in 1998 under Swiss laws that allow clinics to provide lethal drugs, British authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to Britons who go there to die.

But even among organisations that campaign for Britain to decriminalise assisted suicide, Edward Downes’ death raised troubling questions. Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said that the growing numbers of Britons going abroad to die made it all the more urgent to amend Britain’s laws.

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