Assisted dying 'the time for debate is now'

23 January 2020, 08:52

WARNING: The following deals with issues surrounding assisted dying, which some viewers may find upsetting.

Sarah Collins

By Sarah Collins

A man from Lancaster who will end his life in a Swiss clinic says the time for debate around assisted dying is now.

Alex Pandolfo applied to Life Circle for a voluntary assisted death in 2014 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

A university lecturer, former bus driver, unionist, music lover and mad Manchester City fan, the 64-year-old nursed his father through dementia and says he and others should have the right to choose how they end their lives.

He originally called Nick Ferrari's LBC show in March 2019. He told us he was diagnosed with Alzheimers four years ago and he made a decision almost immediately, having cared for his father for five years.

After speaking to Alex, Nick said: "There can be no decision with more gravity than whether or not to end your life."

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400 people from the UK have travelled to Switzerland for an assisted death in the last 20 years, Alex is adamant he will join that number at a time of his choosing, he will have to be of sound mind and fit to travel unaided which means he will have to go while he still well.

Alex says a change in the law would give people like him more time, this is why he shares his story in the hope that it will make difference in the future he said: “None of us want to live in pain or in circumstances that are out of control that lead to nothing but suffering for us and others that could be ended if we had laws like that in Switzerland."

He added: “I don’t want to die, I love life but I don’t want to face the horrors that will come as the Alzheimer’s disease gets worse, it’s already impacting my life, it limits what I can do, it could see me becoming increasingly violent and someone I don’t recognise”.

On Thursday Westminster Hall will see MPs debate how the current law is working, it’s been motioned MSP Christine Jardine who believes the law needs to change.

It follows last month’s high court ruling in which Paul Lamb lost his bid to see a change in the law with Judges saying that it was a matter for parliament, not the courts.

Mr Lamb who’s 63 was left paralysed from the neck down in a car accident 30 years ago. Should he choose to go to Switzerland to end his life anyone travelling with him would face up to fourteen years in prison for assisting a suicide.

It leaves families torn between helping loved ones and risking prison or watching a loved one suffer.

80-year-old Len Taphouse from Essex found himself in this position in 2019 when his wife of 55 years, Stella, applied to Dignitas.

She’d battled cancer three times but it was the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that led her to make that decision. In August 2019, Len, Stella and their three daughters flew Zurich knowing Stella wouldn’t be returning and the remaining four could face arrest upon their return.

Despite that Len says he had to support his wife.

“I’d given it some thought, I’m 80 and someone once told me that I could be locked up for 6 years and I thought so what if I’m 86 and I’ve got rather blatant about it, I don’t care now anyway.

"I could see how much pain she was in. I understood the torment she was in and she was a very strong-willed woman and it was what she wanted and wouldn’t have gone against it because I’d seen how much her health had deteriorated and it was painful to watch”.

The argument around the right to choose has been at the centre of many a court battle and the last time MPs voted in Parliament on a change in the law in 2015, it was overwhelmingly rejected.

However, since then other countries across the world have moved to legalise to Assisted Dying with Norway, Canada, Colombia, Belgium and some states in the US introducing a change in the law.

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A number of groups insist there should be no change here and that any move towards legalising assisted dying would put the most vulnerable in society at risk.

Alistair Thompson from Care Not Killing said: “The current law actually ensures that people know when and if they are going to be charged and someone acting out care and compassion accompanying someone to Switzerland are very unlikely to be prosecuted”.

“What we are missing is a debate around good palliative care in this country and access to palliative care because we know that when people have that across the board we don’t need to look at changing the law to allow assisted dying”.

If you're affected by any of the issues discussed in My Time To Die, please contact one of these helplines:

Samaritans: 116123

Alzheimers Society: 0300 222 11 22