Call for changes to UK assisted suicide laws after woman’s peaceful death at Dignitas

Angela Barrett, aged 65, chose to end her life at Dignitas, a right-to-die organization in Switzerland, after two years of decline from a neurological disease. Her husband, Greg Barrett, described her final moments as peaceful and comfortable. Angela’s decision to pursue assisted dying came after being diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain condition. The options of choking to death or dying from pneumonia were not favorable to her, so she decided to explore assisted dying as an alternative.

Over the course of a year, Angela’s health declined, affecting her mobility, vision, and ability to swallow. She attempted to take her own life in April 2021, but it only worsened her condition. Greg explained that this was when her independent mobility ended, and she did not want to be confined to a hospital bed with tubes. Thus, they began the process of applying to Dignitas.

The application to Dignitas was complex, requiring medical records, letters from doctors, and a psychological assessment. However, due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, Angela’s two adult sons, who are police officers, were unable to be with her during the final moments. Despite the challenges, Angela remained determined. On the morning of July 14, 2021, near Zurich, she washed her hair, put on earrings, and did her makeup, activities she had not been able to do for a long time. Greg described her burst of energy before she drank the life-ending medication.

After Angela consumed the medication, she snuggled into her pillows and peacefully fell asleep. Greg held her hand and felt her relax. He found solace in the fact that she was in control and able to make this decision for herself. Greg, who was later interviewed by the police, did not face further action.

Shortly after Angela’s death, Greg’s father, Kenneth, who had vascular dementia, fell and was admitted to the hospital. As he struggled and pleaded to be allowed to die, Greg was deeply affected by witnessing his suffering. Kenneth passed away ten days later at the age of 96 after a prolonged hospital stay.

Greg is now advocating for changes to UK assisted suicide laws. Assisting a suicide is currently punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Campaign group Care Not Killing argues against changes to the law, expressing concerns that vulnerable individuals may feel pressure to end their lives due to fear of being a burden.

Greg’s personal experience has led him to believe that assisted dying should be a choice for those facing unbearable suffering and deteriorating quality of life.