Tyneside family who took their dad to assisted dying clinic call for change in the law

  • Video report by Katie Cole.

A Tyneside family who travelled to Switzerland to allow their father and husband to have an assisted death says it's time for the law to change.

70-year-old Ray Craven from North Shields died at the assisted dying clinic Dignitas in September after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

His daughter, Naomi and his wife Janice, who travelled with him and have spoken to ITV News Tyne Tees as assisted dying is debated in the House of Lords and calls grow for it to be made legal.

Janice says she believes you should have the choice whether to end your life if you're terminally ill.

Janice and Ray Craven had been married for 42 years  – last April their lives changed forever when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Following the diagnosis, Ray told his family he wanted to go to Switzerland, where unlike the UK assisted dying is legal.  

Ray's daughter Naomi Craven says the family respected his wishes:

"At the point at which he got the diagnosis it was quite clear that there was no hope, there was no chance this was going to get better and it was going to get steadily worse.

"And what was the right thing for my dad was to do the kind thing, and we were utterly supportive of that.

"And whatever it would take to get there we would support him."

Ray with his daughter Naomi. She says the family respected his wish to end his life. Credit: Family Photo

Despite being legal in Switzerland, taking someone from the UK to be assisted to die is illegal. In helping Ray to plan and travel to Dignitas Naomi and Janice broke the law.

The family say the repercussions of doing so are worrying, but they couldn’t let him go alone. They say his final moments were peaceful, but they wish he could have ended his life in the comfort of his own home.

"We had to travel away from the city he loved to die in a strange country.

"He spent the last three days of his life in an AirBnB in Zurich. It is not something you can tell people you are doing so he lost the opportunity to say goodbye to his friends and family."

Ray's wife Janice added that seeing him so distressed was awful: "On the flight he sat with his head in his hands with a mask on and because he was drooling so much the mask was soaking and he was very distressed.

"It just makes me very angry he had to go through that."

Naomi Craven, with her mum Janice and dad Ray. Credit: Family Photo.

A bill that would force the government to introduce assisted dying legislation is being debated by the House of Lords.

Janice and Naomi are also backing a petition to get MP’s to debate the issue

Campaign Group Dignity in Dying say people of sound mind and with six months or less to live should be given the option to control their death.  

There is a petition for people to call on the government to give assisting suicide the time it deserves in Westminster to be debated, to be heard and to be scrutinised and a vote would take place that would introduce a safe and compassionate assisted dying law.

However, there are also some organisations that oppose the idea of this legislation ever being introduced.

Not Dead Yet UK is a network of disabled people and supporters who campaign against changes in the law to legalise assisted suicide.

Kevin Yuill from the organisation says that they "look at this legislation and think it's going to be extended to lives that people imagine are not worth living. 

"Disabled people in this country are very worried about a system which divides people in this country, people who we will strenuously try and prevent your suicides and people who will say 'you know what we'll put a wheelchair up to the cliff edge and we'll give you a push if you need it.'

"It divides people up into two groups. Some whose lives are worth it and some whose lives are not. "

Motor Neurone Disease

What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves.

It causes weakness that gets worse over time.

(Source: NHS)

Is there a cure for MND?

There's no known cure for motor neuron disease, but there are treatments to help reduce the impact it has on a person's daily life.

Some people live with the condition for many years. MND can significantly shorten life expectancy and, unfortunately, eventually leads to death.

(Source: NHS)

What are the symptoms of motor neurone diseae?

Symptoms of motor neurone disease happen gradually and may not be obvious at first.

Early symptoms can include:

  • weakness in your ankle or leg – you might trip, or find it harder to climb stairs

  • slurred speech, which may develop into difficulty swallowing some foods

  • a weak grip – you might drop things, or find it hard to open jars or do up buttons

  • muscle cramps and twitches

  • weight loss – your arms or leg muscles may have become thinner over time

  • difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations

(Source: NHS)