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Sir Edward Downes, Britain's most renowned orchestra conductor, and his wife, Joan, a former ballet dancer and television producer, decided to end their lives together last week.
Joan Downes had recently been diagnosed with cancer of the liver and pancreas and had only weeks to live, reports the Associated Press. Her husband was not terminally ill, but was nearly blind and was steadily losing his hearing, making it harder for him to enjoy the music that he loved. So the pair turned to assisted suicide.
They then flew to a well-known assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland that is run by Dignitas, a group that has been helping people from other countries to die for years. According to the New York Times, the couple drank a lethal dose of barbiturates and died in their sleep, holding hands, with their children by their side.
The Downeses' son, Caractacus, told interviewers, "They wanted to be next to each other when they died." He also said that the family told the British police, saying, "Even if they arrest us and send us to prison, it would make no difference because it is what our parents wanted."
Helping anyone to kill themselves is illegal in Britain, although authorities have always turned a blind eye to people going abroad to seek assisted suicide. According to BBC News, the death of the beloved musician has re-opened the assisted suicide debate. Despite a shift in popular opinion in the country, any attempt to soften the laws surrounding the issue has been defeated.