According to the Daily Mirror, in August 2015, Bob Cole, who had recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal and aggressive form of lung cancer, chose to approach Dignitas in Zurich for support in ending his life.
It is thought Mr Cole was exposed to asbestos whilst working as a carpenter – one of the many trades involved with asbestos-containing materials on a regular basis. Doctors had given Mr Cole, who was an active campaigner in favour of assisted suicide, three months to live. Prior to his death, he urged MPs to vote in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill.
The main issue before asbestos was banned in the UK was the lack of asbestos training for tradespeople such as Mr Cole, and awareness of the dangers they were in. Asbestos remains a severe threat to health to this day, but stringent health and safety requirements are now in place.
Limited treatment options for mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. Sufferers are often given a very short prognosis, as the cancer is generally at a late stage when they seek medical help.
Treatments for mesothelioma are generally aimed at managing the distressing symptoms, and can include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. But if the disease is too advanced the patient may not be strong enough for intervention of this type, and palliative care could be the only option.
Assisted Dying (No2) Bill
The emotive issue of assisted suicide was debated by MPs last year when they voted on whether to accept the Assisted Dying Bill. Almost 20 years have passed since the last vote took place in the House of Commons, but the end-result was the same as 74% of MPs voted against its introduction.
In 1997, a similar proportion of MPs (72%) voted against the bill. But campaigners in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide point to Oregon, USA. Assisted dying legislation was introduced there 19 years ago, with no apparent cases of abuse of the law or attempts to extend its scope.
The essence of the House of Commons vote was whether to, “Enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life.”
Current law states that anyone assisting suicide in the UK could receive a jail sentence of up to 14 years.
Dignity in Dying campaign group
According to figures published by Dignity in Dying, the national campaign group for assisted dying, 82% of people in the UK “support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill adults.”
Every fortnight one person from Britain travels to Switzerland to die, according to figures published on their website. The group campaign for greater choice for mentally competent adults who have a terminal illness, and less than six months to live.
Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton commented on the death of Mr Cole,
“Bob’s decision is yet another reminder that the current law is broken. Parliament’s job is to fix the law so people like Bob and his wife Ann are no longer forced to travel abroad to simply have control over the manner and timing of their own deaths.”
Forch, where the Dignitas Association is based: By Roland zh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9911083