DO YOU WANT TO DIE TODAY?
Dignitas’s question to Brit sufferer Husband ‘could have lived longer’
FLYING home after visiting Zurich with her family, Sara Fenton was returning without her husband Keith by her side.
She had taken him to Dignitas clinic, where he drank a life-ending medication prescribed to him by doctors.
They had asked him on his arrival: “Keith, do you want to die today?”
Sara, 56, claims it was the most “peaceful and dignified” way for her husband, who had Huntington’s disease, to end his life.
But she believes that if laws were different here, Keith could still be alive today.
The PA said: “If assisted suicide had been available in this country, he would still be here because he wouldn’t have had to go so early.”
Sara is backing campaigner Noel Conway, who wants terminally ill people to be given the right to die on their own terms at home.
Speaking for the first time about her family’s traumatic trip to Switzerland in 2017, she told how she believes fear drives many people to end their lives sooner than they would like.
Sara said: “People are frightened of either becoming too ill to travel or, also in Keith’s case – because his illness is neurodegenerative – he had to have the mental capacity to say he wanted to go to Dignitas.
“We had to find a psychiatrist to say he had it, then have another assessment the week before. He was so worried; what if he woke up tomorrow and didn’t have the mental capacity?
“Keith would have lived quite happily for another few years just knowing he’d got the option in this country. That’s the saddest part.
“We probably would have had last Christmas together and probably this Christmas as well. It’s just sad that people can’t have that chance in this day and age.” Military veteran Keith had watched his father, sister and a brother lose their lives to Huntington’s when he was diagnosed with the cruel disease in 2008, aged 50.
He was determined not to face the same end, becoming trapped in his failing body.
Sara said: “He was in the Army for 35 years and used to be in control of everything. He felt he was gradually losing control of his life.
“He would fall over regularly and choke on his food. He couldn’t do normal things, like make a cup of tea. It scared him.
“In January 2017 he started saying he wanted to go to Dignitas, but I tried to ignore it. I just said, ‘It’s fine, we will manage together’. Then he tried to take an overdose and I realised how selfish I had been.
“I thought, ‘I have got to help him’. I couldn’t bear to see him suffer any more. He didn’t want to be here any more. He thought he was going to have the same end he had seen his brother, sister and father go through. He couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in his body.”
The family then set about finding a way to get Keith to Switzerland, where he could end his life on his own terms.
The day he got the green light from Dignitas, Keith, a former map-printing expert with the Royal Engineers, felt back in control.
Sara said: “He changed completely. All of a sudden he was back to his old self. He wanted to see friends again and go on day trips.
“It completely changed him. He started living again.” But plans had to be carried out “cloak and dagger”, as they feared prosecution or someone trying to block the trip,
The couple and their children Charlotte, 23, and Edward, 26, travelled to Switzerland from Hungerford, Berks, telling doctors and carers they were going on a two-week holiday. They made wonderful final memories before arriving
SARA FENTON ON HUSBAND DECIDING TO END LIFE ABROAD AHEAD OF TIME
at the clinic. The last photo of Keith, taken 40 minutes before his death, shows him smiling over a slice of cake at a cafe near Dignitas.
He died at the clinic on November 30, 2017, aged 59. Sara maintains it was peaceful and happy, and the “total opposite” of what he would have faced had nature taken its course.
But she vowed to Keith in his final hours that she would fight for law change in Britain to spare other families travelling abroad in secret.
The trip cost them £13,000, a sum many could not afford. Sara added: “It would have been lovely if we could have been more open and been able to say goodbye to more people.
“He was even frightened of telling his brother, who is in the police. The fact you can face 14 years for helping somebody to go is ridiculous.
“We didn’t know if there were going to be police waiting for us at the airport. I expected a knock on the door, but no one ever came.”
Sara became area co-ordinator for Dignity in Dying’s West Berkshire group, and dedicates her spare time to promoting a law change.
One Briton travels abroad to die every eight days on average, figures show.
Yet in 2015 Parliament voted overwhelmingly against an assisted dying bill, by 330 to 118.
Legislation which could have made Guernsey the first place in the British Isles to allow it was rejected last summer.
Opponents of assisted suicide say it could lead to vulnerable people feeling pressured to end their life out of fear of being a burden.
But Sara believes it is only a matter of time before the UK catches up with Switzerland, Canada and US states including Washington.
She added: “As soon as the law changes, I will raise a glass to Keith and say, ‘You did it’.”
He was so worried; what if he woke up tomorrow and didn’t have the mental capacity?
FAMILY With children Edward and Charlotte