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suicide, suicide tourism, assisted suicide

Rugby Player's Death Draws Attention to Assisted Suicide

October 22, 2008 09:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The death of Dan James, who traveled to a Swiss euthanasia clinic for an assisted suicide, raises legal and moral questions in Britain.

Athlete's Assisted Suicide Sparks Debate

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The parents of the 23-year-old rugby star are under police investigation after traveling with their son to Switzerland, where he died on Sept. 12. The case has been referred to the complex case unit of the Crown Prosecution Service, reports the BBC.

Dan James, who played for the England Universities rugby team and the England Students team, was paralyzed from the chest down when his spine collapsed as the result of an accident during a training session in 2007. 

His parents, Julie and Mark James, said in a statement that Dan’s death was "no doubt a welcome relief from the 'prison' he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence."

Authorities in Switzerland allow assisted suicide, which is illegal in Britain. The clinic Dignitas, which has been the location of all of the known British assisted suicides in Switzerland, would not confirm that Dan had been at the clinic.

Reactions: Mother defends decision; others reach out to James family

Julie James, Dan's mother, wrote about her son's suicide at the Daily Telegraph Web site in response to a story about euthanasia. "Dan found his life so unbearable and had tried to commit suicide three times. Other than to starve himself, to travel to Switzerland was his only option," James wrote. "Our son could not have been more loved, and had he felt he could live his life this way he would have been loved just the same, but this was his right as a human being. Nobody but nobody should judge him or anyone else."

The family of a man who died in the same suicide clinic as James says that his parents should not be prosecuted, reports the Welsh publication Wales On Sunday. Paul Bennett, a terminally ill patient from Wales, chose to undergo lethal injection at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich in May 2006.

"My heart went out to them when I saw the story on the news. We have been in exactly the same position. It is a tragedy," said Paul Bennett’s father, Roy, to Wales on Sunday. Roy added that his son made his choice as an adult. "He had no hope. If you take away hope from someone then your future is taken away and he could see that."

Opinion & Analysis: Can James' suicide be justified?

James' parents, who have been enduring widespread public scrutiny, deserve sympathy more than punishment, contends Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent. If prosecuted, she writes, "they will have punishment piled on to indescribable grief."

To those who condemn James' decision to end his own life, Alibhai-Brown says that not everyone can learn to live with extreme disability. "Some who choose to die before an incurable illness decides the timing for them are simply taking control; others want to go before they are too old and infirm. And then there are individuals like Daniel who hate the state they're in and wish to let go. Maybe medical advances would have come along to make things better—that is what Christopher Reeve hoped for until the day he died. Daniel didn't wish to wait."

The Times comments that the disability rights movement may have had the effect of muting the difficulty of living with a life-changing disability, especially while still young. "[W]e should not prattle on about fulfilling lives, Paralympians, Stephen Hawking and the rest if it makes us belittle the terror and self-disgust of a fit young person, paralysed. No amount of pious wittering about the Disability Community should blind us to that psychological impact."

Background: “Suicide tourism”

People seeking assisted suicides have been traveling to Switzerland for years now, as part of a phenomenon being called "suicide tourism." CBS reported in 2003 that the country has the most liberal assisted suicide law in Europe, as the procedure, which requires that the patient carries out their own death, is legal as long as nobody makes a profit. Euthanasia, however, in which a doctor administers a lethal drug, is illegal.

In 2005, an American expatriate who had created Web sites to help people arrange to commit suicide in Cambodia was forced to shut down the sites after Cambodian authorities threatened legal action. Roger Graham, originally of California, claimed that euthanasia was not illegal in Cambodia.

In recent years, Mexico has become another popular suicide destination, reported the San Diego Reader in August. Tijuana, which was already a hotspot for those seeking medicine or medical procedures that are expensive or unavailable in other countries, is now seeing suicide tourists from as far as 8,000 miles away. Dr. Philip Nitschke, Australia's "Dr. Death" and the author of a book on suicide that was banned in several countries, says that Mexico is convenient and “relatively easy for people to access the country.”

Related Topic: America’s “Dr. Death” to run for office?

CNN reported earlier this year that Jack Kevorkian, who participated in the assisted suicides of more than 100 people in the 1990s, was planning to run for Congress.

Reference: Rugby

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