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"Suicide Tourists" Had Mental Illnesses, But Not Terminal Illnesses
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 25, 2004

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND--Officials are investigating a euthanasia clinic after it was determined that it violated its own rules and Swiss law when it allowed two British "suicide tourists" to kill themselves last year.

An inquest on Tuesday revealed that Robert Stokes, 59, and his wife Jennifer, 53, of Bedfordshire, England died together in the "death room" of a flat owned by the euthanasia organization Dignitas, after taking lethal levels of a drug normally used by veterinarians to put animals to death.

The inquest also revealed, however, that the couple were not in the final stages of terminal illness, nor were they "of sound mind" when they showed up at the clinic on April 1, 2003.

Bedfordshire coroner David Morris said, "No evidence has been put to me that either of them were in any terminal state or expected imminent death."

In fact, the couple, who met each other while in a psychiatric institution, both experienced mental and physical disabilities and had repeatedly turned down offers of help.

According to various news reports, Mr. Stokes had epilepsy which had been made worse by electric shock treatments and two brain operations. Medical reports said he had "depression with suicidal elements". Mrs. Stokes had diabetes, multiple sclerosis and had used a wheelchair following a spinal injury in the 1980s.

Family members said the two were worried that they might get placed into separate nursing facilities if their health continued to deteriorate.

Disability rights groups have opposed attempts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, citing situations in which people with physical and mental disabilities have been pressured to take their own lives, or have been killed by others. Governments that have allowed assisted suicide have included guidelines that restrict the ability of people with mental illness -- or who do not have an incurable condition -- to receive help in dying.

Under Swiss law, those who seek assistance in killing themselves are supposed to be evaluated to confirm that they are terminally ill and have made a conscious, "rational" decision to die.

The founder of Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli, has said that depression can sometimes be considered an irreversible illness.

One pro-euthanasia group has already used the Stokes' deaths to call for making assisted suicide legal in Britain.

"This was a horrifying case and it indicates the effect of the laws we have now," said a spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. "Unless the Government puts in place laws that regulate assisted suicide, more people will die this way."

Related:
"Couple who died after suicide clinic visit 'not terminally ill'" (The Independent)

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=534270

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