The death of conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Zurich attracted a good deal of press coverage, and not just in the obituary columns.
The Daily Telegraph reported a few days later that Dignitas faced a clampdown from the Swiss authorities, who propose that would-be suicides would have to spend several months of counselling at the clinic to ensure that they were certain they wished to die. This would put a stop to so-called “quick suicides”.
The Daily Mirror based its sympathetic report on the statement issued by the Downeses’ son Caractacus and daughter Boudicca, who were with them when they died.
In a leader article, “Going gently”, The Economist suggested that “the terminally ill should be helped to an easeful death, if they ask for it”. Unusually for its normally pro-liberal stance, though, it argued that the non-terminally ill should be denied the right to assisted suicide, on the grounds that pressure from greedy relatives might force them into dying before they really wanted to.
The Times reported numerous organisations which opposed the idea of assisted dying altogether. Alastair Thompson of the Care Not Killing group argued that it placed “an intolerable burden on husbands and wives who could feel pressured into euthanasing themselves alongside their partners even though they are not unwell.” Dominica Roberts of the Pro-Life Alliance was sure Sir Edward and Lady Downes “could have lived out the rest of their lives happily.”
Alexander Chancellor, writing in The Guardian, was scathing about the whole idea of assisted suicide, describing Dignitas as “a tacky Zurich apartment” and its founder, Ludwig Minelli, and his “minions” as “creepy”. “Assisted suicide,” he argued, “is too close to murder for the law to be able to distinguish clearly between them.” The main thrust of Chancellor’s argument appeared to be that even though Sir Edward had decided to die at Dignitas, that didn’t make it right – and that the circumstances surrounding Dignitas assisted suicides (police investigations into whether an offence has been committed under British law) couldn’t have been what Sir Edward wanted.
For all this he was lambasted in several readers’ comments. Not only for “resort[ing] to tabloid phrases […] in order to try to bolster his own prejudice”, but more strongly for sticking his nose into other people’s business:
Assisted suicide need not be too close to murder to be indistinguishable. It would be a very simple matter to require official notice given to a registrar, and a declaration witnessed by a qualified legal and/or medical professional. There are ways round these objections. The far greater obstacle is people like Chancellor who think it’s any of his business to object to or disapprove of someone else’s entirely personal decision.