Terminally ill Brit urges MPs to change law on assisted dying, on the day of his death at Dignitas

Posted On: 
7th February 2019

On the day of his death, Geoffrey Whaley has released an open letter to MPs urging them to legalise assisted dying as an option for dying Brits.

A terminally ill man who is due to die this morning (Thursday 7 February 2019) at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland has urged MPs to change the law on assisted dying. On the day of his death, Geoffrey Whaley, 80, who was diagnosed with terminal motor neurone disease in 2016, has released an open letter telling of the torment he and his family experienced after police were anonymously notified of his plans.

In Geoffrey’s final weeks of life, he and his wife Ann, 76, both from Buckinghamshire, were subjected to a police investigation after an anonymous call was made to social services alerting them of the couple’s intention to travel to Dignitas so that Geoffrey could have control over his imminent death. Geoffrey and Ann have chosen to speak out about their experience in the hope that they can contribute to a future change in the law which would allow terminally ill people the option of an assisted death in the UK.

In Geoffrey’s letter to MPs he writes: “By the time you read this, I will be dead. With [my family’s] love and support I have been able to fulfil my final wish: to be in control of my end, rather than endure the immense suffering motor neurone disease had in store for me.

“I want to impress upon you the anguish me and my family have experienced, not because of this awful illness… but because of the law against assisted dying in this country. The blanket ban on assisted dying has not only forced me to spend thousands of pounds and endure months of logistical hurdles in order to secure a peaceful and dignified death overseas, but it has meant that my final weeks of life have been blighted by visits from social services and police.”

Speaking before their trip to Switzerland, Ann said:

“Geoff and I have been very happily married for 52 years.  I have never seen him cry. The day the police called, he sobbed. Geoff’s carefully thought-through decision to have control over his end had enabled us to cope with his horrific illness and maximise the time we had left without worrying that he would suffer at the end. To think that my husband might suddenly be deprived of his final wish, and that I might be arrested for doing what any loving wife would do, was unconscionable.

“Geoff had taken great pains to ensure that he, and only he, organised the entire Dignitas process. It was only in the last few weeks, when he finally lost the use of his hands, that he had to instruct me to physically book the flights to and hotel in Switzerland. These are the acts that apparently make me a criminal. In my eyes, I am not a lawbreaker; I simply love my husband.”

At present the police have stated that they will be taking no further action against the Whaley’s, but any further information which may come to light in future will be reassessed and the investigation could be re-opened.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“Geoffrey and Ann’s story is a heart-breaking reminder of the cruelty that the current law inflicts on dying people and their families. Every eight days someone from the UK travels to Switzerland for an assisted death. Banning the practice in this country does not make it go away; it simply outsources death overseas, at huge financial, practical and emotional cost to the families involved.  

“100 million people across several American and Australian states and throughout Canada have access to assisted dying laws that provide compassion and choice to dying people while protecting the rest of society. It is a national disgrace that the UK is lagging so far behind. In upholding the status quo, our elected representatives are turning a blind eye to the suffering of terminally ill people and the overwhelming public support for a change in the law. It high time they grasped the nettle and did the right thing in giving dying people a real say over their end.”