Woman Who Assisted Husband's Suicide Can Inherit Estate

The law in the UK is not supportive of people who assist, however unwillingly, those they love who want to die. Although such wishes are often borne out of suffering years of intractable pain or disability, assisting the suicide of another remains a criminal offence.

Recently, a woman who accompanied her husband to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland had to go to the High Court to enforce his wish that she should inherit his estate. He had suffered for four years from progressive supranuclear palsy, an incurable disease, before deciding to end his life. By then he was too severely disabled to travel unassisted.

He died in 2017 at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. Although the Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring a case against his wife, considering that it would not be in the public interest, the Forfeiture Act 1982 prevents the acquisition of a benefit by a person as a result of their unlawfully aiding or assisting in the procurement of the death of another.

She therefore sought a declaration by the Court that the forfeiture rule should be waived in her case. The court acquiesced, but important in the decision was evidence that she had not agreed with her husband's decision and had tried to persuade him not to end his life: it was compassion and a wish to accede to his strong desire to die as he did that influenced her behaviour.

Although the Court granted her the relief she sought, it would be unwise at this juncture for anyone to take that as the tacit agreement of the courts that assisted suicide is acceptable.