Section 10.4

Planning your visit Saying the farewells

“It is probably wise to avoid humour”

Some families do it in style.   One couple, not-so-elderly actually, took their three adult children, five grandchildren and a couple of aunts to the Hotel Champagne near Epernay in France.   Bang in the middle of the champagne region, they enjoyed a two-night family break in the hotel, winding up with a proper “goodbye grandad” dinner on the second evening.   They had arrived in four separate cars from different parts of Britain.   The 180 mile drive from the Channel Tunnel had taken them around four hours.   On the morning after the dinner, which had apparently been a great success, the grandad paid everyone’s bills and was driven by his wife and one of the aunts the remaining 300 miles to Switzerland.   He administered his own assisted suicide peacefully the next day.

At the other end of the scale, there are people who seem almost embarrassed by their intentions – sloping off to Basel or Zurich, sometimes alone, leaving most people astonished by their departure.   It must be reported that the Centres themselves take a very dim view of this and do what they can to prevent it.

Obviously the cost and possible awkwardness of the “champagne” alternative would not be everybody’s choice but it certainly seems better than secrecy.   Even if you do not want to say goodbye to your relatives, it is likely that they would want to have said goodbye to you.

The lady in Bournemouth

I heard of one rather bizarre story about an elderly lady living alone in a large Victorian house in Bournemouth.   She made no secret of her planned visit to Switzerland and invited all her relatives to the house for a “farewell afternoon tea”.   Once the tea and cakes had been served, she sat them all down in the drawing room and read out her own Will.   “I know you will all miss me a very great deal,” she said “but I want you to know the manner in which I am intending to repay your devotion”.   She then gave a huge list of specific bequests.   Whether she was correct in assuming how much she would be missed is not recorded, but apparently no one challenged the Will.

Making a Will

Incidentally, in spite of the temptations to the contrary, it is probably wise to avoid humour when writing a Will.   My father’s said “I desire that I be cremated and that my ashes be sprinkled upon the steps of the Inland Revenue building in Leeds with the incantation ‘now you’ve got the bloody lot’”.   It sounded very funny when it was being drafted; less so when it was read out by our rather serious family lawyer.

In passing, it is worth noting also that almost everyone who seeks an assisted suicide in Switzerland has also made a recent Will.   Cynics would say that this is because anyone who can afford to spend upwards of £10,000 on their own death must be rich enough to worry about what happens to their assets.   I don’t think it is so simple as that.   Many people of considerable wealth do die intestate.   Yet I doubt there is a single example of a visitor to one of the Swiss clinics dying without making full preparations for the administration of their estates afterwards.

Letting people know

Most people who know they are facing a probable death through some incurable illness within the next few months will want to have some final communication with their family and friends.   This is sometimes in the form of a telephone call that both parties know to be final.   It can be a letter from the patient, sometimes intended to be read after their death.   Increasingly, it is a generalised letter attached to a round-robin e-mail – usually saying what a wonderful life they have had and how grateful they are for the friendships it has involved.

For someone on the point of visiting one of the centres in Switzerland, the circumstances are much the same; though not quite. The impending journey implies an element of deliberation and control that, whatever the circumstances, requires an explanation.   Why not just let nature take its course?   It can also make people think that the journey-maker must feel very unhappy, even angry, about their life in general.   This could indeed be the case, of course, in which case it is probably wise to keep quiet about it.   More often, however, the reasons for the journey to Switzerland are totally logical and justified – in which case a relatively cheerful note of explanation and gratitude can easily prevent any hurt that would otherwise have been felt.

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Section 10.5

Planning your visit - What happens when you’ve died?