British couple end their lives at Swiss clinic

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Dignitas assists an elderly British conductor and his wife to commit suicide.

London -- A renowned British conductor and his wife died in the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas in Switzerland, their family said Tuesday.

Edward Downes, 85, was almost blind and deaf, and his 74-year-old wife Joan was terminally ill when they chose to end their lives, a statement released to the BBC said.

The couple "died peacefully, and under circumstances of their own choosing", the statement said.

"Our father, who was 85 years old, almost blind and increasingly deaf, had a long, vigorous and distinguished career as a conductor," his family said.

Downes worked with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra for 40 years, and also collaborated with the Royal Opera House.

His wife began her career as a ballet dancer and subsequently worked as a choreographer and TV producer, before becoming her husband's personal assistant later in life.

More than 100 Britons, mostly terminally ill, have died at the Dignitas clinic near Zurich.

In one of its more controversial cases, Dignitas was criticised for helping Daniel James, 23, to commit suicide in 2008 after he was paralysed while playing rugby.

Under British law, it is illegal to help anyone commit suicide but campaigners say the legislation is not enforced -- James' parents were not prosecuted for helping him -- and should be changed to avoid ambiguity.

However, an attempt to amend the law to protect victims' relatives from possible prosecution was defeated in parliament earlier in July.

AFP / Expatica

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