Top conductor and wife latest to die at Dignitas

A renowned conductor and his wife have become the latest Britons to be killed at the Dignitas assisted suicide facility in Switzerland.

Sir Edward Downes CBE was conductor emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic orchestra and Lady Joan Downes was a former ballet dancer and choreographer.

News of their deaths last Friday became public when their children released a statement yesterday.

Sir Edward, 85, had been losing his sight and hearing, while his 74-year-old wife had been suffering from terminal cancer.

The family’s statement read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our parents Edward and Joan Downes on Friday July 10.

“After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems.

“They died peacefully, and under circumstances of their own choosing, with the help of the Swiss organisation Dignitas, in Zurich.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said that detectives were investigating the circumstances of the couple’s deaths.

Last week the House of Lords voted against weakening the UK law against assisted suicide.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton had tried to change the law so that it would be legal for a person to help a loved one travel abroad to commit suicide.

During the debate several Peers cited controversy surrounding Dignitas as a reason to reject the change.

Lord Walton of Detchant referred to “a whole series of people who have been put to death in that so-called clinic, which is not really a clinic, when there was no evidence that they were suffering from a terminal illness”.

It was revealed earlier this year that several of the 115 Britons who have so far committed suicide at Dignitas were suffering from “treatable” conditions.

The Dignitas facility is reportedly under investigation after helping a physically healthy man, who suffered from depression, to kill himself.

Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli has previously called suicide a “marvellous possibility” and says he wants to help healthy people and the mentally ill to die.

He has been accused by a former nurse at the facility of profiting from patients’ deaths.

The Swiss Government was recently reported to be considering “legal barriers and a ban on organised suicide assistance.”

The new Swiss proposal would tighten restrictions on who could access assisted suicide, potentially limiting it to those who are close to death.

If passed it could spell the end for so-called ‘suicide tourism’ to Swiss facilities such as Dignitas.

An initial BBC online report of the Downes’ deaths did not mention the word ‘suicide’. Instead it referred to the couple “travelling to right-to-die clinic Dignitas” where “both chose to end their lives”.

This has since been corrected to “assisted suicide clinic”, possibly as a result of criticism from other news sources which accused the BBC of pro-euthanasia bias.

Responding to news of the Downes’ deaths, Daily Telegraph columnist George Pitcher said: “As this couple so served the world in life, they also serve to show us in death that Dignitas in Switzerland and Dignity in Dying in the UK are committed not simply to assisted suicide for those with terminal conditions, but also to euthanasia for those who ask for it.”