Swiss clinic which helped British man, 47, to die in secret apologises for failures

As the debate around assisted dying gains pace in the UK, a clinic in Switzerland has apologised to the family of a man who took his own life without them knowing. ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

A clinic in Switzerland which helps hundreds of people to die each year has apologised to the mother of a British man who took his own life without his family's knowledge.

Following an ITV News investigation, Pegasos said it would change its procedures to ensure that relatives were always informed in future.

Forty-seven-year-old Alastair Hamilton told his mother he was flying to Paris last August, but instead travelled to Basel where he took a lethal dose of drugs.

As Judith Hamilton, 82, waved him off to the airport, she says her son told her: "He put his arms around me, looked me straight in the eyes and he was smiling. And he said 'love you, mum, love you lots, always have, always will no matter what'."

The chemistry teacher had dramatically lost weight and complained of stomach problems in the months leading up to his death, but did not have a diagnosed illness.

His family had been supporting him in seeking medical help and had no idea he was really travelling to Switzerland to end his life.

Judith Hamilton did not know her son was going to Switzerland to die. Credit: ITV News

When he failed to return to the UK and stopped answering his phone, his mother reported him missing.

Bank records eventually revealed that he had paid £11,000 to Pegasos to access what's known as a 'voluntary assisted death' in Switzerland.

ITV News travelled with his family to trace his final journey and confront the clinic which accepted his online application form, which has been seen by ITV News.

Limited to 300 word answers, Alastair told them that his undiagnosed condition was causing him "pain, fatigue and discomfort" which had "devastated my life".

However, he admitted that "there is no current, definitive medical explanation" for his illness and that his family did not know he had decided to take his own life.

Despite that, Pegasos accepted his application and within several days of arriving in Switzerland he was helped to die.

ITV News managed to trace his final journey to an industrial estate on the outskirts of Basel, where we believe Alastair died in an office block next to an asphalt factory.

At the request of his mother and brother Bradley, we took them to see the building, where they were overcome with grief.

“It’s not the best place to be for your last view of earth.”

"It’s even more heart-breaking that someone could have been with him, but they didn't tell us and he didn't feel that [he could]," Bradley said.

Breaking down in tears, his mother said: "I keep saying to myself 'oh Alastair'."

Following Alastair's death, his brothers repeatedly emailed Pegasos but were left waiting for a reply.

Judith and Bradley travelled with Paul Brand to Switzerland. Credit: ITV News

Eventually, with the involvement of police and the British embassy, the clinic responded, confirming Alastair's death and returning his ashes to his family in the post.

We persuaded a representative from Pegasos to meet with Judith and Bradley in Switzerland to answer their questions.

At an anonymous office in central Basel, we were greeted by Sean Davison, who had spoken repeatedly to Alastair before he died.

Mr Davison does not work for Pegasos, but for a separate organisation called Exit International, which advocates for the right to an assisted death.

He was the last person Alastair called from his death bed.

“He said he had told [his family] but they didn’t want to talk about it,” Mr Davison insisted.

“He said they didn’t support him. I didn’t know they weren’t coming until the very end. I had nothing to do with it, I was only his friend.

"He even phoned me from his death bed and said ‘Sean I’m just so grateful to have had a friend to talk to.’

"I tried [to dissuade him] every time I spoke to him. I said you’re a handsome man, you’ve got such a life ahead of you. I really pleaded with him, I would never encourage anybody to end their life."

After our interview with Mr Davison, we were then asked to leave before the Pegasos representative entered the room to speak to the Hamilton family.

During the meeting, the family say the representative apologised for failings around the way Alistair’s case was handled. Under Swiss law, anyone can be helped to take their own life as long as the person assisting them does not have selfish motivations.

The industrial estate where Alastair was helped to die. Credit: ITV News

But the best known clinic - Dignitas - requires people to have a terminal illness, 'unendurable disability' or 'unbearable pain' to qualify for its assistance.

The representative from Pegasos told the Hamilton family that its procedures would now be brought closer into line with guidelines set by the Swiss Medical Association in 2022, which say a family should always be informed if a relative intends to die.

However, they also made clear that Pegasos does not believe in many of the guidelines, which also state that a life should be unbearable before someone is assisted to die.

Following the meeting, Judith and Bradley told us that they were pleased Pegasos intended to tighten its procedures, but still believe Alastair should not have been allowed to die without their knowledge.

Alastair Hamilton was 47 and suffering from an undiagnosed condition. Credit: ITV News

"I was robbed of the chance of going there and cuddling him whilst he did it, giving him a kiss goodbye all because these checks and balances weren't in place at Pegasos," Bradley says.

"We weren't given that chance to either be with him or in my case, drag him home, tooth and nail if I had to," his mother says.

Responding to our report, Pegasos said: "As conveyed by Mr. Habegger during the meeting, we would like to tell the family once again that we are very sorry that our communication caused them further distress last year.

"We were not sure how to deal with the situation in terms of communication and legally and therefore did not act as we would today. We hope that our meeting helped them to understand better the decision and path of Alastair.

Alastair's family had been supporting him in seeking medical help for his condition. Credit: ITV News

"Pegasos has always respected the applicable Swiss law without exception and continues to do so... we always require reports from medical specialists. Only based on these reports, other documents and direct contact with the concerned person, a decision can be taken. "We are conscious of our great responsibility. This is why, in those rare instances where we have reason to assume that no information has been provided to close family by the person seeking voluntary assisted death, we will abort the procedure on the spot.

"In 2022, the Swiss Medical Association revised its guidelines regarding assisted dying. It is important to understand that these guidelines are not legally binding for the associations but are policies for the medical professionals. Several organisations for assisted dying, including Exit, Dignitas and Pegasos, publicly spoke out against the revised guidelines, because they are putting at risk the self-determination of people planning a voluntary assisted death and the freedom of choice in Switzerland."

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