British Woman Who Aided Husband in Assisted Suicide Escapes Prosecution

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 26, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Woman Who Aided Husband in Assisted Suicide Escapes Prosecution Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 26
, 2006

London, England ( — A British woman who took her husband to Switzerland for an assisted suicide has escaped prosecution after convincing police that her act was a caring one intended to help him. The case points to the problems of prosecuting people who take people to other nations in order to foster their death.

Michelle Bennett had helped her husband Paul, who had been suffering from motor neurone disease, to travel to Switzerland to die at a Swiss euthanasia clinic run by the pro-euthanasia group Dignitas.

Police questioned her and Paul’s family after his death and the Crown Prosecution Service ruled Tuesday that no charges should be filed against Michelle.

"I fully support the decision," Chief Inspector DCI Peter Azzopardi told The Sun newspaper.

"I was profoundly moved by the closeness and love Paul’s family and friends had for him," Azzopardi said. "I’d ask that his family and friends are allowed to grieve him and move forward with their lives."

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and, although police have launched investigations in other cases of people traveling abroad for assisted suicides, none have resulted in prosecutions.

The Swiss government has been under pressure from pro-life groups and others to tighten its laws because the nation has received a reputation as a haven for assisted suicides.

The nation’s parliament had called on the government to examine the law and its decision to not review the statutes drew condemnation from three of the four political parties in the nation’s government.

The failure to prosecute comes after a British man lost his legal battle at a European court to prevent a possible euthanasia death.

Leslie Burke, a patient with a degenerative brain condition, fears doctors may one day refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube. He said he worries that British General Medical Council guidelines giving doctors the ultimate say over a patient’s life were an infringement on patients rights and his right to live.

Burke won a case at the British High Court in May 2005 but the GMC appealed the ruling and won on appeal. Burke then took the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

In July, the British Medical Association reversed its position on assisted suicide and restored its long-standing opposition to the practice.

At its annual conference, the doctors group voted by almost a two to one margin to restore its old position against the practice. The group represents about 135,000 physicians in England and its change of position came after the British parliament defeated a bill to legalize assisted suicide.