Retired doctor Anne Turner, from Bath, died with the help of medics from the controversial Dignitas clinic, on the day before her 67th birthday.
Dr Turner was suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, or PSP, the incurable degenerative disease which killed the actor Dudley Moore in 2002.
She died at 12.35 GMT at a flat in Zurich, surrounded by her three grown-up children, after drinking a lethal dose of barbiturates.
Emerging from the flat shortly after Dr Turner’s death, her son Edward, 39, an accountant from Fitzrovia, London, said: “She was ready to go and that makes it all the easier for us. We will respect her choice and we will miss her very much. We are very thankful that her suffering is over.”
Dr Turner was at the relatively early stages of the disease – which causes nerve endings in the brain to degenerate – and was still able to walk unaided, eat and communicate.
Her decision to commit assisted suicide while still only partially disabled will re-ignite the debate over Britain’s laws on assisted dying and euthanasia.
‘I am resolute’
Before her death, Dr Turner said the law should be changed so that terminally-ill patients did not have to die before they were ready, by being forced to travel abroad while still being able to do so.
“I know that people say that I look well, but I’m not,” she said in an interview given last week at her home in Bath. “And I think it is very, very important that people have the opportunity to do in this country (the UK) what I’m going to do.” Asked if she was certain she was doing the right thing, Dr Turner said: “Absolutely. I am resolute.”
Dr Turner survived breast cancer after under going a mastectomy in 2004. She attempted to commit suicide by suffocation at her home in Bath last October, but failed.
Her husband Jack, a GP, died from the degenerative disease Multiple Systems Atrophy in September 2002, and his younger brother died of Motor Neurone Disease a few months earlier.
‘I am not depressed’
Dr Turner, who ran a family planning clinic, said last week: “I have been seen by one psychiatrist three times and by another one once – and they left no questions about my soundness of mind. Nor did they think I was depressed – and I do not think I am.
“My three children all support my decision, especially as we have all seen the effect of a very similar illness in my husband: his terrible suffering, loss of dignity and his long slow demise.
“I feel strongly that assisted suicide should become legal in this country.
In order to ensure that I am able to swallow the medication that will kill me, I have to go to Switzerland before I am totally incapacitated and unable to travel.
“If I knew that when things got so bad, I would be able to request assisted suicide in Britain, then I would not have to die before I am completely ready to do so.”
She added: “I know that I am more fortunate than many other people in my situation, in that I have the knowledge and the finances and the support of my family to make assisted suicide in Switzerland possible. To die with dignity should be everybody’s right.”
She said she had suffered “several nasty falls” since early 2003 – her disease can affect balance – breaking her wrist twice and thumb once.
According to the PSP Association, patients live for an average of seven years with the disease and can survive for even longer.
Speaking before her death, Edward Turner said the family had been unable to dissuade his mother from suicide. He said: “Mother announced the diagnosis in December 2004 and said, in the same breath, ‘I’m going to kill myself’.
“We have spent a lot of time in denial, not wanting to bring it up and hoping she’s forgotten.”
Dr Turner was accompanied to Switzerland by Edward and daughters Sophie Pandit, 41, an actor, and Jessica Wharton, 37, a legal executive.
Speaking before Dr Turner’s death, Sophie said: “We’ve been saying things like ‘Oh, she’s bought a new duvet cover – that must mean she must want to stay’.
“But now we’ve had a year to get our heads around it, and we have accepted it.”
Dr Turner was the 42nd Briton to commit assisted suicide with Dignitas, and the organisation currently has nearly 700 British members. The first publicised British case – and the second Briton to die with Dignitas’s help – was Reg Crew in January 2003.