February 27, 2024

British conductor and wife die at Dignitas

Brings tally to 117

Sir Edward Downes and his wife JoanTwo more British deaths at the Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas. This time, however the couple was well known — conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan. Downes had been one of the world’s leading interpreters of Verdi and had conducted the first opera at the Australian landmark, the Sydney Opera House, in 1973.

He was 85, "almost blind and increasingly deaf," according to a statement from his son Caractacus and daughter Boudicca, but not terminally ill. His wife was, they said, but gave no details. "After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems.".

“They wanted to be next to each other when they died,” their son told the media. “It is a very civilized way to end your life, and I don’t understand why the legal position in this country doesn’t allow it.”

The couple’s children were reportedly present at their deaths and British police are investigating the case. Assisted suicide is officially illegal in the UK. Their deaths bring the tally of Britons dying at Dignitas to 117. This worries leading figures on both sides of the debate. Sarah Wootton, the head of Dignity in Dying, told the BBC: "This problem is clearly not going to go away; we are descending down a slippery slope towards unregulated assisted dying abroad, at a rapid pace." Without safeguards, she said, the process was "dangerous and open to abuse". ~ BBC, July 14; ABC, July 15