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'From four seconds, she was gone': Daughter tells of her trip to Dignitas with her mother as calls grow for law change

15 February 2024, 09:23 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 09:36

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Tearful Carmen (L) and her mum Sandra on their way to Dignitas. Right, Sandra pictured one year before she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease
Tearful Carmen (L) and her mum Sandra on their way to Dignitas. Right, Sandra pictured one year before she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Picture: Supplied

By Asher McShane

A daughter who took her dying mother to Dignitas told LBC today of the 'heartbreaking' ordeal she went through but said she would do it again with 'no hesitation'.

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Carmen Alkalai, 51, from north London, told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast how her mum was diagnosed at 61 with motor neurone disease and suffered a rapid decline in the space of just a month.

To avoid a ‘horrendous death’ from the debilitating condition she said her mum took the decision to end her own life.

Caller Carmen's mother chose the assisted dying route after suffering with motor neurone disease

Carmen said: “It was absolutely horrendous. When she found out the prognosis she immediately said ‘I want to go to Dignitas’.

“It took a lot of administration which was absolutely heartbreaking. Instead of spending quality time with mum I was running round filling forms out.”

Read more: Time for new debate on assisted dying, says Wes Streeting as Dame Esther Rantzen reveals Dignitas plan

Read more: Esther Rantzen reveals she has joined Dignitas and will consider assisted dying if health does not improve

Sandra said her mum chose Dignitas so she would avoid a ‘horrendous death’ from motor neurone disease
Sandra said her mum chose Dignitas so she would avoid a ‘horrendous death’ from motor neurone disease. Picture: Supplied

She said it took about 4 weeks for them to get to Zurich, she took her mum to the airport with her sister and described how they had to see a doctor, who came to visit her in hotel to check it was her own decision and “look her in the eyes” to make sure she was really sure about proceeding.

On the day of her mother’s death she said they took a taxi to Dignitas where they were met by volunteers and asked again if it was what her mum really wanted.

She had to press a button to release the fatal medication.

Carmen said they first did a ‘test run’

“My mum didn’t think, speak, do anything. She went straight for that button. Four seconds, her eyes closed.

“Within a minute, although she looked dead from four seconds, she was gone."

Caller Sandra's husband took five and half years to die after his dementia diagnosis

Carmen's mother Sandra died at the clinic at the age of 62.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking but it would be, she was my mum and she died. But I would have supported her and anyone else who was in the same situation.

“I would do it again if I had to.”

“I’ve spoken to my MP lots and lots of times. What I would say to any MP who isbn’t in agreement is that you need to debate and. Listen to the people who have gone through this.

Nick Ferrari asked her: “You never had a moment’s hesitation?”

“No. I did ask constantly. I told my mum that if she didn’t want to do this I’d look after her. I wanted to be sure that it was… not because she felt she was a burden.

“I absolutely had no hesitation to help her.”

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

While there is no specific offence of assisted suicide in Scotland, euthanasia is illegal and can be prosecuted as murder or culpable homicide.

Last December Dame Esther Rantzen revealed she has joined Swiss clinic Dignitas which lets people have an assisted death.

She said that was considering ending her own life if treatment for her lung cancer did not improve her condition.

But her family could currently be prosecuted if they were to travel there with her.

Dame Esther will be speaking to Nick next week and she wants to hear your views on assisted dying. You can listen on Monday from 7am on Global Player, the official LBC app.

In 2015 a bill to legalise assisted dying in the UK was defeated. MPs voted by 330 to 118 against a change in the law then, but there are now questions around when another vote could take place.

Many senior politicians have called for the Commons to revisit the issue.

The NHS has more information on assisted dying here. Campaign for Dignity in Dying has further information.

Those feeling distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.

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