19:05, November 12 55 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-12 19:05:04
UK patients 'suffering as they cannot afford assisted dying overseas'

Thousands of terminally ill people who want to travel abroad to end their life in specialist clinics can not afford the costs of doing so, leaving them to face often “painful and traumatic deaths at home”, according to a new report.

The study by the campaign group Dignity in Dying says the UK is outsourcing death to Dignitas – the assisted dying organisation in Switzerland – which only the better off can afford.

The study found that while more than half of Britons would consider travelling to abroad for an assisted death, only a quarter said they could afford the average £10,000 cost.

Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the study “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.”

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK and Wootton said terminally ill people are spending their final months “overwhelmed by paperwork [and] being made to feel like criminals”.

She added: “Those that are unable to obtain an assisted death overseas can end up suffering painful and traumatic deaths at home or taking drastic measures to end their own lives. This is not how a civilised country should treat its dying citizens.”

The report is based on polling and 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.

It found that those without enough money or family and friends to support them were unable to make the tip to assisted dying clinics.

Emil Prysak, 30, from London, said his mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which spread throughout her body. She initially ruled out Dignitas because of the cost involved, but later regretted it due to the pain and suffering she experienced at the end of her life.

Prysak said: “Because of the complexity of her illness, my mum was suffering all the way to the end … She was looking at us, saying ‘Why can I not die? If I had known it was going to be like this I would have gone to Switzerland’ … My mum didn’t want that suffering and that’s haunting me. It will haunt me to the end of my life.”

Caroline Villar, 39 from County Down, was also interviewed. She said when her mother, Margaret, received a terminal diagnosis of cancer, she considered an assisted death in Switzerland but feared the legal implications for her family if they helped her. She ended up dying in pain at home in Northern Ireland.

Villar said: “I think most people believe that modern medicine will stop you suffering, but my mum was crying out for painkillers at the end, and they couldn’t increase the dose because they said if they gave her any more, it would push her over into death. We were all happy for that to happen, to finally end her suffering, but they couldn’t do it.”

Kit Malthouse, the Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, wrote in a foreword for the report that it “shines a light where too few policy makers are willing to look.”

“We must ask whether these terrible experiences can truly be justified by a false dichotomy between dominion over our lives and protection of the vulnerable, a premise long-disproved,” he said.

“The evidence that we need change is overwhelming. It’s time that the UK stopped outsourcing its compassion and began listening to dying people who want and need the most basic choice they will ever face.”