Sheffield woman who helped her husband die calls for change in assisted suicide law

A Sheffield woman who was investigated by police after traveling with her terminally ill husband to an assisted dying clinic has called for a review of the UK’s ‘cruel and outdated’ legislation.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 1:20 pm
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 1:21 pm

In April 2018, Jan Vallance, 72, from Sheffield, accompanied her husband Mark, 73, to Dignitas in Switzerland alongside their daughter Jody to allow Mark to die.

Alongside Dignity in Dying, she has now launched a new campaign - Compassion is Not a Crime - urging the Ministry of Justice to launch an inquiry into the current blanket ban on assisted dying.

She said: “Mark was a rock-climber, a mountaineer, a fell-runner and a skier. To become confined to one room often unable to walk or move - knowing it would only get worse - was devastating.

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Mark Vallance.

“Getting Mark to Dignitas was a huge source of anxiety for us all, but once we arrived in Switzerland, he at last felt able to relax.

“He was able to die on his own terms, rather than at the mercy of a cruel illness.”

Jan said she and Jody then hoped to be allowed home to grieve, but the police had been alerted to Mark’s absence from the nursing home and were waiting to interview them.

“The next seven months were agonising before we were informed that it was decided that it wasn’t ‘in the public interest’ to pursue a case,” she said.

“If there had been an assisted dying law in the UK, Mark could have hung on for longer, said his goodbyes openly and died peacefully in his own bed when the time was right for him.”

Assisted dying is banned under Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, which states that a person found guilty of ‘assisting a suicide’ can be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said it was a scandal that families were being criminalised for ‘acts of love’.

She said: “An inquiry would enable the views of those most affected to be heard - terminally ill people, their loved ones, the police and other public services.

“Our outdated assisted dying laws deserve to be scrutinised, not dying people or their loving families.”