Tue 22 Jun 2004
An “attention seeking” couple fulfilled a suicide pact at a Swiss euthanasia clinic after suffering decades of ill-health, an inquest was told today.
Robert Stokes, 59, and his wheelchair-bound wife Jennifer, 53, died in Zurich on April 1 last year after taking lethal doses of the barbiturate pentobarbitone.
They died in the “death room” of a flat owned and operated by the euthanasia organisation Dignitas, which helps so-called “suicide tourists” to end their lives peacefully.
The couple, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, had both suffered a range of mental and physical illness throughout the past 30 years – but were not suffering terminal illness which would make their assisted suicide legal in Switzerland, the inquest in Bedford heard.
Recording verdicts of suicide, Bedfordshire coroner David Morris said: “No evidence has been put to me that either of them were in any terminal state or expected imminent death.
“They planned and intended to bring about the end of their lives in Switzerland. They were meticulous in the way they arranged their affairs.
“That intention was carried out in Switzerland with the organisation known as Dignitas.
“I am satisfied that the medical cause of death was respiratory arrest due to ingestion of pentobarbitone.”
Mr Stokes had suffered severe epilepsy which was made worse by courses of electric shock therapy and two brain operations he underwent to control the condition in Australia in the 1970s.
Medical reports said he had “inadequate personality and depression with suicidal elements”.
The couple had both failed in several attempts to kill themselves but repeatedly declined offers of psychiatric help from doctors.
Mrs Stokes, who had diabetes and multiple sclerosis, was confined to a wheelchair by a permanent spinal injury caused by a fall in the 1980s. She was unable to wash and dress herself and was cared for full-time by her husband.
Consultants had told her that there was no surgical cure for her chronic
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