The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Thousands would consider Dignitas assisted death but can't afford it

Charity calls for changes in the law on assisted dying so Britons can die at home

Mark Gould

Monday, 13 November 2017

Over half of Britons would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill, yet only a quarter could afford it, according to new research by the charity Dignity in Dying.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the charity which questioned 1,648 British adults reveals that 53% would consider travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death, yet only 25% said they could afford the average £10,000 cost.

It also found that 66% of people would consider breaking the law to assist a terminally ill loved one to have an assisted death abroad.

The report, The true cost: how the UK outsources death to Dignitas, concludes that the current law, which prohibits assisted dying in the UK, is "deeply flawed" and is "failing terminally ill people and their loved ones".

Due to a lack of meaningful choice at the end of life at home, it says that many dying Britons feel forced to investigate an assisted death overseas. However, the associated financial, logistical, physical and emotional costs mean that this option is out of reach for many terminally ill people. Dying people who are unable to obtain an assisted death abroad can go on to endure unbearable suffering and painful deaths in the UK, it says.

For the report, independent researchers conducted in-depth interviews with three groups of people: those with a terminal illness who are considering an assisted death in Switzerland; those who have helped a loved one to have an assisted death in Switzerland; and those whose loved one considered an assisted death in Switzerland but died in the UK.

Dignity in Dying also carried out secondary research on the financial costs involved in arranging an assisted death in Switzerland and analysed the enquiries the organisation has received from people seeking information on how to control their deaths.

The report also reveals logistical challenges that make obtaining an assisted death abroad impossible for many dying people. The process is complex and time-consuming, meaning many people require help from family and friends to make arrangements and travel there, yet any assistance provided to someone seeking an assisted death is against the law.

Another obstacle is the requirement to be physically able to travel to Switzerland. This often has the perverse effect of forcing terminally ill people to die earlier than they would have otherwise wanted to, or being unable to travel at all.

The report also highlights that the current law does not protect vulnerable people. Dignitas told the researchers that every eight days someone from Britain travels to Switzerland for an assisted death. Yet there are currently no legal mechanisms to trigger an advance investigation if someone is considering doing so and only a minority of cases are investigated after the fact, meaning malicious or coercive behaviour could go undetected.

Dignity in Dying says the “criminalisation” of assisted dying in the UK also means that the process of seeking one overseas often happens behind closed doors, sometimes leading people to investigate more dangerous and traumatic methods to end their own lives at home.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “This report exposes the unacceptable reality that is faced by so many dying people in this country. By denying terminally ill people the option of an assisted death at home, we are not solving the problem, just outsourcing it to Switzerland – and dying people and their families are the ones paying the price."

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470