Hafal responds to Dignitas’ view on suicide

Vice Chair of Hafal’s Trustees Elin Jones has responded to Swiss right-to-die organisation Dignitas’s defence of helping Britons, including some psychiatric patients, commit suicide.

More than 100 Britons, most of whom have been terminally ill, have died at the controversial organisation which was set up in 1998 and this week, in his first broadcast interview for many years, Dignitas’ Founder, Ludwig Minelli, told the BBC that suicide was a “marvellous possibility”.

Minelli’s comments, which included the fact he would like to see the assisted suicide law clarified for the healthy partners of dying people, created a media stir in the UK and on Thursday producers of Radio Wales’ news programme Good Evening Wales invited Elin onto their show to discuss Minelli’s views.

Prior to the interview, which Elin had with Radio Wales’ Peter Johnson, listeners heard Minelli state that suicide is a “very good possibility of escape” once all help to alter a bad situation had been made. Listeners also heard Minelli conclude that: “Suicide is a marvellous possibility given to a human being.”

Here is the transcript of the interview which followed.

PETER: Hello Elin, what do you make of what he (Minelli) had to say?

ELIN: Well I think it’s very sad. I don’t dispute the moral issues with regard to suicide, I think that’s a matter for the individual conscience and nobody at Hafal would condemn people who decide that for them, in their situation, the way out is suicide. But I feel it has to be a rational decision and people with a serious mental illness can often find themselves in a situation which can be resolved with proper help and support by all the agencies involved but they, for one reason or another, don’t get that help or support. If they, like my own husband, decide that they must kill themselves, they kill themselves in terror and in desperation, it’s a dreadful end. My husband, in his suicide note, said he didn’t want to die.

PETER: Heavens, but he thought that was the best way out?

ELIN: He thought that was the only way out. He thought that people were coming to kill him.

PETER: Is suicide ever a rational decision, Elin, can it be whether or not you’ve got mental health problems?

ELIN: Well, it’s very hard for me to make a comment on that. All I can say is I can imagine that if you’re in unbearable pain or if you knew you had a terminal, degenerative illness which would take away your dignity, I could understand why people would choose to end their own lives. But having lived with somebody who was on the edge of killing himself for a totally unnecessary reason that was, for him, so compelling and so real and yet knowing that if only he could have had the help he needed…there are so many people in that situation crying out for help. Very often they don’t get it because, for one reason or another, the support services that should be there for them either aren’t available or aren’t accessible at the times they need them. So often we hear of people falling through the net, it’s a waste of a life.

PETER: Minelli makes an interesting point where he says that failed suicide attempts, of which there are a great many in the course of a year, actually put quite a strain on the facilities that we have already. Have you some sympathy with that?

ELIN: Yes but again, each individual case is an individual case. Very many of these failed suicide attempts may not have been somebody who really, seriously intended to kill themselves, they were doing something out of desperation, out of a feeling of panic or a feeling of despair. Again, if we have these support services available, if people are able to talk through these feelings, if they can access the right drug controls then they can find a better way out which doesn’t involve ending a human life and doesn’t involve ending all that potential for happiness that’s always in each one of us, wherever we are.

PETER: Elin Jones, one of the Trustees of the Welsh mental health charity, Hafal.