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BBC Conductor Sir Edward Downes Dies in Switzerland With His Wife

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BBC conductor dies in Swiss Suicide/euthanasia/right-to-die – centre/clinic.


There has been controversy over the sad death of Conductor – Sir Edward Downes, 85, and his wife Lady Joan Downes, 74. The Telegraph reported on this story as did The Guardian and The BBC.



There has been a lot of controversy about them taking the decision to end their own lives with assistance – as there has been in the past with other cases, such as The Telegraph reports: “Aiding and abetting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison; Last year, the parents of Daniel James, 23, who committed suicide at ‘Dignitas’ after he was paralysed in a rugby training accident, were investigated by police.  The Telegraph goes on to report that “the Director of Public Prosecutions decided it was “not in the public interest” to charge Mr James’s parents, in effect ruling out prosecutions in other cases in the future.”



The focus has been on the clinic in Switzerland – ‘Dignitas’ which has 800 British members and has assisted the conductor and his wife in dying along with “at least 115 Britons who have travelled abroad to die” as The Telegraph reported.



 The Telegraph, The Guardian and The BBC have reported on the story as a tragedy and an editor of The Telegraph has criticised The BBC for referring to the centre as a right-to-die clinic.



Mr Thompson who is blogs editor of the Telegraph Media Group titled his piece “The BBC’s creepy coverage of Sir Edward and Lady Downes’s joint suicide.” He goes on to say “Sir Edward Downes, that fine British conductor, has committed suicide along with his wife in the vile ‘Dignitas’ clinic in Switzerland. But the word “suicide” appears nowhere in the BBC website’s report of this tragedy.” The BBC spends more time in reporting on Sir Downes career giving details as to how it began and mentioning that he began to play violin at the age of five. It seems that the BBC later in a recent report used the word suicide three times whereas The Telegraph did many reports on the story and used the word suicide 13 times in one article and 5 times in another article – as did The Guardian.



The latest in Britain over assisted suicide is; as The Telegraph reported “British group Dignity in Dying wants the government to “urgently” consider overturning the laws that make it illegal in this country.” The Royal College of Nursing also have concerns as the UK Government has, although the RCN have dropped a stance of being harshly opposed to the concept of helping patients to die/commit suicide. The latest move has left the RCN in a neutral position neither opposing nor supporting the concept of assisted dying/suicide. 



The Government do not want a situation where the number of assisted suicides increase as if legalised it may put pressure on certain individuals – for example people with disabilities, as The Telegraph reported “many people claimed that disabled people would be placed under pressure to end their lives in order to relieve the burden they place on families and the health care system.”



The Guardian reports on the controversy and debate by mentioning that “Prosecutors have not pushed forward cases against families and friends of the growing number of Britons who have travelled to ‘Dignitas’ to die, however, and there is fierce debate about whether the law should be changed to protect people from prosecution.”



The Guardian reported as did the BBC and The Telegraph on a statement from the couple’s children on Friday July 10th who said “they died peacefully, and under circumstances of their own choosing. – After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems. Our father, who was 85 years old, almost blind and increasingly deaf, had a long, vigorous and distinguished career as a conductor. Our mother, who was 74, started her career as a ballet dancer and subsequently worked as a choreographer and TV producer before dedicating the last years of her life to working as our father’s personal assistant. They both lived life to the full and considered themselves to be extremely lucky to have lived such rewarding lives, both professionally and personally.” The Guardian also refers to Dignitas as a “Swiss organisation that operates a specialist euthanasia service.”



The Police have been investigating and The Guardian reported “A Metropolitan police spokesman said Greenwich CID had launched an investigation.” The Teleraph reported that the family members “could now be questioned by the officers investigating the death.” 



The Telegraph ended their report by saying that Sir Downes was “noted for championing British music, he has enjoyed a particularly long relationship with the BBC Philharmonic, serving as its chief guest conductor, then principal conductor, and finally as conductor emeritus. He was appointed CBE in 1986 and knighted in 1991. There will be no funeral.”



10 – 18 July 2009

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