Skip to content

Richard Selley calls for legalisation of assisted dying, on day he is due to die at Dignitas

Terminally ill man Richard Selley, 65, from Perth, has sent a final plea to Parliamentarians to change the law on assisted dying, on the day he is due to die at Dignitas in Switzerland (Friday 6 September 2019).

In a video released today (Friday 6 September 2019) by Dignity in Dying Scotland, Richard, a former head teacher who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in March 2015, has called on MSPs to support an Assisted Dying Bill so that other terminally ill people can have the option to die on their own terms at home, rather than endure the suffering he has experienced.

Richard said:

“I hope that Members of the Scottish Parliament support an Assisted Dying Bill in the future. I think the momentum for a change in the law is growing. It will be too late for me, but I hope that sometime soon people in my position will have the choice to have a peaceful death at a time of their choosing.”

In his final video Richard also spoke of his reasons for seeking an assisted death overseas and the personal and financial cost he has been forced to bear as a result:

“Since my diagnosis with MND four years ago, I have lost the ability to walk, talk and swallow. I have also lost most of the power in my arms. Despite these losses I have tried very hard to remain positive and my palliative care has been outstanding. However, as I enter the final stage of my journey, I don’t wish to suffer for much longer so I am seeking an assisted death with Dignitas.

“Despite what some people think, Dignitas do not let people simply fly to Zurich, knock on their door and ask to die. I have already had to compose letters, write a life story and obtain medical records that prove that I am terminally ill. This has been stressful, particularly as my GP was advised to refuse my request for an up-to-date medical report.

“Having assisted dying available in Switzerland is welcome, but it will cost me about £10,000. I am fortunate that I can afford this, but most people cannot. Having to be able to fly means that I am choosing to die earlier than I would prefer. If an assisted death was possible in Scotland, I would be able to die at a time of my choosing, at home.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“Richard and his wife Elaine have shown immense bravery and dignity in sharing their story and speaking out about the injustice they have both suffered under the UK’s outdated, broken law in their final weeks together. The outpouring of support they have received from members of the public and Parliamentarians has been overwhelming, but not surprising – 84% of the British public support a change in the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent people the choice of an assisted death, subject to strict safeguards.

“As Richard points out in his final message, he has received outstanding palliative care. But it is simply not enough to guarantee him the swift, peaceful and dignified death he wants. Richard is not alone – this week we published research which finds that even with universal access to the best hospice care, 17 Brits every day would still die with absolutely no relief of their pain. Surely those people whose suffering is beyond the reach of palliative care deserve another option?

“In the face of stories like Richard Selley’s, this new evidence, and an ever increasing number of jurisdictions around the world embracing assisted dying, it is imperative that Parliamentarians act. We call on Westminster to take forward the former Justice Secretary David Gauke’s commitment to launch an inquiry into the blanket ban on assisted dying, the suffering it inflicts on dying people and their loved ones and the impact it has on public services. If we are serious about improving end of life care in this country and ensuring that everyone has the death that’s right for them, assisted dying must be part of the conversation.”

***ENDS***

Please note that Elaine Selley will not be available for interviews. Any future requests should be made through Dignity in Dying.

For more information, photos or to request an interview with Dignity in Dying, please contact Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Officer at Dignity in Dying, on 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025 / ellie.ball@dignityindying.org.uk.

Notes to Editor:

All videos and photos should be credited to Dignity in Dying.

About Dignity in Dying

  • Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public [5] Polling conducted by Populus, March 2019.
  • Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.

The true cost of the UK’s ban on assisted dying

  • Currently, every 8 days [1] Estimated using publicly available figures from Dignitas and figures supplied through private correspondence with the Life Circle (Eternal Spirit) someone travels to Switzerland from Britain for a legal assisted death – a process which costs £10,000 on average [2] The True Cost: How the UK outsources death to Dignitas – Dignity in Dying, November 2017 and often causes people to die earlier than they would have wanted in order to be well enough to make the journey.
  • Polling has found that over half (53%) of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill and two-thirds (66%) would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, yet only a quarter (25%) would be able to afford it [3] Polling conducted by YouGov, August 2017. A further 300 terminally ill people end their own life in the UK every year [4] A Hidden Problem: Suicide by terminally ill people – Dignity in Dying, October 2014.

Healthcare professionals

  • The British Medical Association announced on 25 June 2019 that it will survey its 160,000 members on assisted dying for the first time. The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. Its policy is decided at its Annual Representative Meeting, which voted on 25th June by 193 votes to 113 in favour of the survey.
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners announced on 22 June 2019 that it will survey its 50,000 members on assisted dying. The College is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying.
  • The Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in March 2019 following a survey of its 36,000 members.

UK developments

  • In July 2019 the House of Commons debated the functioning of the current law, particularly with respect to dying people who travel overseas for an assisted death and the suffering this causes for friends and family. This was prompted in large part by the case of Ann Whaley, who was interviewed under caution by local police for accompanying Geoffrey, her husband of more than fifty years, to Dignitas.
  • A legal challenge was launched by Phil Newby, a man with motor neurone disease, in July 2019. Phil’s case aims to secure a full examination of the evidence for a change in the law on assisted dying at the High Court, including the possibility of cross-examining expert witnesses. The next stage of his case is likely to be heard in the autumn.

International developments

  • Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in eight US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado and Hawaii (January 2019). This year New Jersey (April) and Maine (June) voted to introduce assisted dying laws.
  • Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
  • Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. The Government of Western Australia began debating an Assisted Dying Bill in August 2019.
  • New Zealand is currently considering an End of Life Choice Bill, which passed Second Reading in June 2019.