Man, 80, with motor neurone disease is due to die at Dignitas today

‘By the time you read this I’ll be dead’: British man, 80, leaves haunting letter as he ends his life at Dignitas after his wife was warned by police she faced 14 years in jail for helping him

  • Geoff Whaley, who has motor neurone disease, ended his life at Dignitas clinic 
  • Mr Whaley had called for a change to law after his wife was interviewed by police
  • 80-year-old devastated that his wife of 52 years warned she may be prosecuted 
  • Law ‘robbed him of control over his death’ and punished those trying to help him

A grandfather with motor neurone disease penned a candid letter to MPs and published it in the moments before he ended his life at the Dignitas clinic today.  

Retired accountant Geoff Whaley, from Buckinghamshire, chose to die at Dignitas in Switzerland, rather than face ‘immense suffering’ in the end stages of the devastating disease. 

The grandfather-of-four, 80, passed away at the clinic at 10am this morning. 

Just moments before his death, he posted a haunting letter to the Government, calling for a change in the law which he said, ‘robbed me of control over my death.’

He revealed how he ‘sobbed’ when his wife was grilled by police, adding: ‘[The law] sought to punish those attempting to help me get there. The hypocrisy and cruelty of this is astounding.’ 

Mr Whaley wanted assisted suicide to be made legal in the UK after his wife of 52 years, Ann, was interviewed under caution last week and warned she faces 14 years in prison for helping her husband to die.  

When asked about helping her husband ‘commit suicide’, 76-year-old Mrs Whaley said: ‘I don’t think of it like that. When you’ve got a husband as brave as mine you have to support him.’ 

Geoff Whaley, who has motor neurone disease, is set to die at the clinic in Zurich, Switzerland today

In a letter to the Government, Mr Whaley asked MPs to reconsider the law on assisted suicide


Mr Whaley wrote to MPs: ‘On Thursday 7 February 2019, I will have taken medication that will end my life, surrounded by my wife, Ann, my children, Alix and Dominic, and a couple of my dearest friends at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland. With their 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’

Mr and Mrs Whaley on their wedding day. Ann, was interviewed under caution and warned she faces 14 years in prison for helping her husband to die

The law on assisted suicide in the UK 

Under English law it is illegal to provide information, advice, support or assistance to anyone intending to take their own life. 

Family and loved ones who travel with a patient to Dignitas and are present during the process face the risk of prosecution and up to 14 years in prison when they return to the UK. 

Patients travelling to Dignitas also need to be sufficiently healthy to travel from the UK to Switzerland, something that can quickly be robbed from patients with degenerative illnesses.

In May 2018, Dignitas confirmed the 394th person from the UK had died in its clinic. 

Campaign group Dignity In Dying estimates that every eight days a Briton makes the journey to Dignitas.

Care Not Killing, an alliance of organisations and individuals opposed to a relaxation in assisted dying and euthanasia laws, estimates 273 Britons have travelled abroad for assisted suicide in the last 13 years. 

Father-of-two Mr Whaley was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago and in December doctors told him that he had six to nine months left. 

He and his wife had their last meal together at a hotel in Zurich, with their two adopted children, Alix and Dominic. 

Mr Whaley has left letters for his four grandchildren, aged four to 17.

Mrs Whaley booked the flights to Switzerland and a hotel because her husband can no longer use his hands. 

Mr Whaley revealed how the stress of his wife being summoned to a police station had, ‘destroyed everything we had done to prepare ourselves’. 

He also wrote a letter to the Government asking for them to reconsider the law on assisted suicide. 

It was posted online shortly before he died. 

He said he ‘does not fear death, but fears the journey.’  

The 80-year-old said the final weeks of his life, ‘have been blighted by visits from social services and police.’ 

He adds: ‘I want to impress upon you the anguish me and my family have experienced, not because of this awful illness (though of course this has been incredibly difficult), but because of the law against assisted dying in this country.

‘No family should ever have to endure the torment we have undergone in recent weeks.’ 

Mr Whaley, pictured with his daughter Alix on her wedding day, had dinner with his wife and children the night before he died 

Geoff Whaley, pictured with his daughter Alix, passed away at the clinic at 10am 

Mr Whaley said the law ‘sought to punish those attempting to help me’

The 80-year-old, pictured with his wife Ann, said the final weeks of his life, had ‘been blighted by visits from social services and police.’

Mr Whaley said the law in this country ‘robbed me of control over my death’

Speaking on the BBC, Mr and Mrs Whaley discussed their decision to travel to the controversial clinic in Switzerland. 

Mr Whaley said he and his wife had ‘reconciled themselves’ to the fact that he would end his life and gave the reasoning behind his decision. 

Mrs Whaley also revealed how she was questioned by Thames Valley Police officers who were responding to an anonymous call was received through the social services. 

She said: ‘They [police] were clearly not expecting to find a non abusive situation . They were quite embarrassed.


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‘His final limb had gone and he could no longer do anything for himself at all…he can’t hold a phone, he can’t press numbers, he can’t feed himself – whereas before he could hold a glass of gin and tonic even if I put a straw in it, he could do that.’

Mr Whaley told the BBC: ‘It is one of the illnesses that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

‘The final weeks or months which can be particularly gruesome I decided that I didn’t really want to go through that. We were quite reconciled to that.’ 

Mr Whaley was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago and in December doctors told him that he had six to nine months left

Geoffrey Whaley pens open letter to Government before his death at Dignitas

Mr Whaley wrote an open letter to MPs ahead of travelling to the clinic in Switzerland. 

It reads;

Dear Members of Parliament,

By the time you read this, I will be dead.

On Thursday 7th February 2019, I will have taken medication that will end my life, surrounded by my wife, Ann, my children, Alix and Dominic, and a couple of my dearest friends at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland. With their 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 (though of course this has been incredibly difficult), 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.

Since my diagnosis of MND, an incurable, terminal illness, in 2016, I felt as though bombs have been dropping on me. I gradually lost the use of all four limbs. My ability to speak, swallow and breathe began rapidly deteriorating. I knew my death was inevitable and unavoidable, but I remained strong for my family. I am 80 years old and have lived a full life. I did not fear death, but I did fear the journey. I simply wanted to cut this suffering short by a few months. When I eventually got the ‘green light’ from Dignitas, a weight lifted; I was able to get on with living without the constant mental anguish over my death.

But then, as I was saying my final goodbyes and preparing myself for the end, the final, biggest bomb dropped and I could no longer keep it together. This bomb was in fact an anonymous phone call to social services who informed the police of my plans to go to Switzerland. Within hours Ann and I were facing a criminal investigation. The thought that I might not make it to Switzerland, or that, if I did, Ann might be facing 14 years in jail for helping me, was almost too much to bear.

In 52 years of marriage, Ann had not seen me cry. The day we were contacted by the police, I sobbed.

The law in this country robbed me of control over my death. It forced me to seek solace in Switzerland. Then it sought to punish those attempting to help me get there. The hypocrisy and cruelty of this is astounding. Though it is perfectly legal for me make arrangements and travel to Dignitas by myself, the minute anyone else ‘assists’ me in any way – which is essential, due to my condition – they are liable for prosecution.

I had the chance, just over a week before my death, to speak to some MPs and Peers about my experience and my adamant wish that the law should be changed. The overwhelming reaction in the room was one of agreement; however, I am aware that despite huge public support for an assisted dying law, most members of parliament currently oppose it. I spoke to one MP who had voted against the last assisted dying Bill in 2015. The law being proposed was limited to terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months, with strict inbuilt safeguards to protect the vulnerable and anyone else who has not made a clear decision of their own volition. When I pressed her on why she felt people like me should be denied a say over our own death and be forced to suffer, she was unable to articulate an answer.

I want MPs to know that change is urgently needed and that it is achievable – over 100 million people in several American and Australian states and across Canada are covered by assisted dying laws which allow choice to dying people and protection to others. No family should ever have to endure the torment we have undergone in recent weeks, but it will be easier to bear knowing that by sharing it we can contribute to future change. I sincerely hope that you will truly listen to our story and see the suffering you are inflicting by upholding the status quo.

Yours sincerely, 

Geoffrey Whaley

Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

7 February 2019

Ann Whaley, 76, was summoned to a police station to be interviewed under caution after officers responded to a tip-off 

Mr Whaley decided he wanted an assisted death in Switzerland soon after his diagnosis, but worried police would take his passport, he feared his only other option would be to starve himself.  

Police have since dropped the case, although it may be reopened should any new information come to light. 

Lord Falconer critised the law on BBC Radio 4 today, arguing Mr Whaley should be given the choice to end his own life. 

He told the programme: ‘The idea that this is anything other than his own choice is absurd. The law is a pig.’

What are the rules on going to Dignitas for assisted suicide?

The organisation, which was founded in 1998, is a not-for-profit society which strives of an ‘objective of ensuring a life and a death with dignity for its members’.

Among others, it’s activities consist of the following:

  • Counselling in regard to all end-of-life issues
  • Cooperation with physicians, clinics and other associations
  • Carrying out patient’s instructions and patient’s rights with regard to doctors and clinics
  • Suicide- and suicide-attempt prevention
  • Support in conflicts with the authorities, with the management of nursing homes and with doctors not chosen by the patient
  • Further legal developments in regard to questions about ‘the last issues’
  • Accompaniment of dying patients and assistance with a self-determined end of life.   

Any adult can become a member of the society, even if they are not a resident in Switzerland. 

The organisation claims that in order to join, one needs to fill a declaration of membership and send it in.

Dignitas will then confirm the acceptance of membership in writing and provide the Dignitas patient’s instructions form.

The rules on going there for assisted suicide 

The organisation does require some information before allowing people to carry out an assisted suicide.

It claims that it only deals with illnesses which will lead inevitably to death, unendurable pain or an unendurable disability.

In this case it can, on reasoned request and with medical proof, arrange for members to have an assisted suicide. 

 

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