Switzerland quarantine rule ‘could stop terminally ill accessing assisted death’

Jane Parker, who has motor neurone disease, says she is considering refusing food and water.

Couple holding hands
Couple holding hands

Travel restrictions imposed on people returning from Switzerland could prevent terminally ill patients from having an assisted death, campaigners have said.

Travellers arriving in England after 4am on Saturday will need to self-isolate for 14 days, a rule which was also enforced in Scotland last week.

Dignity in Dying said the rule change, announced late on Thursday for England, has made it “impossible to plan” for terminally ill patients hoping to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

It added that jobs and caring responsibilities, coupled with an average cost of £10,000 at Dignitas, could put the option of assisted dying out of reach for some people.

Jane Parker was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in October 2019 and had been considering travelling to the clinic for an assisted death, which is illegal in the UK.

“I am now unable to speak and swallowing has become very difficult as the muscles continue to weaken,” the 68-year-old told the PA news agency.

“I do not want to suffer a protracted, traumatic death but my options are severely limited, even more so since lockdown.

“Travelling to Switzerland for a legal assisted death, for example, is made even more difficult, particularly with this recently announced quarantine and travel restrictions changing practically every week.”

Ms Parker, who has three daughters and three grandchildren and lives with her husband Adrian in Devon, said: “I want to die at home, and am genuinely considering the idea of refusing food and water – a legal option under the current law.

“How can we allow people to starve and dehydrate to death, but not allow someone to slip away, quickly and peacefully in their sleep?”

Dignity in Dying campaigns manager Ellie Ball told PA: “It’s just another source of anxiety about an option that is already so fraught with difficulty.

“For those who have the resources and strength to avail themselves of this choice, it takes many months of meticulous planning, often in secret. But with travel restrictions changing by the day, it makes planning almost impossible.

“And for loved ones returning to the UK… imagine losing a dear relative, having to leave their body behind in a foreign land and then dealing with your grief completely alone with your support network?”

Ms Ball said the best solution is for assisted dying options to become available in the UK for “terminally ill, mentally competent people” in their final months.

In UK law, helping someone end their life is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Terminally ill Noel Conway, pictured in 2018, has been campaigning for years to receive an assisted death in the UK (Aaron Chown/PA)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Ball said one Briton a week was travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death.

She added that each year around 300 terminally ill people end their own lives in the UK, often involving “multiple, incredibly traumatic attempts”.

The Government ruled out changing the law on assisted dying in 2019 after the high-profile case of Anne Whaley.

Ms Whaley, then 76, was interviewed by police ahead of a planned journey with her 80-year-old husband Geoff Whaley, who had motor neurone disease, to Switzerland to end his life.

Before his death, Mr Whaley told the Times the stress of police involvement had “destroyed everything we had done to prepare ourselves”.

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