A RETIRED doctor who became the first person to be arrested under new rules dealing with assisted suicide cases has died, aged 89.

Dr Elizabeth Wilson, a pioneer of contraception, abortion and assisted dying, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several weeks ago but refused any further palliative medical treatment. She died peacefully at her home in Glasgow's west end with her family around her.

The founder of the Glasgow-based pro-euthanasia group Friends At The End, (FATE) was arrested by Surrey Police in 2009 on suspicion of giving advice to multiple sclerosis sufferer Cari Loder, who took her own life using a helium cylinder and a hood.


The arrest was the first to be carried out since new rules were published for England and Wales clarifying the range of factors that would be taken into account when deciding on cases. These include whether there was a financial motive and looking into how the decision to die was made.

Under legislation, assisting suicide was illegal and carried a jail term of up to 14 years.

Nearly a year later it emerged that Dr Wilson and two men also arrested in connection with Ms Loder's death would not be prosecuted.

The Herald's obituary

Dr Wilson, a former convener and medical advisor to Friends at the End was said to have campaigned tirelessly to have the law in Scotland changed to allow people to die at a time of their choosing, while continuing to help and advise people who called FATE’s befriending service.

It was Dr Wilson, known to friends as Libby, who advised Stuart Henderson, 86, and his cousin, Phyllis McConachie, 89, from Troon who travelled to Switzerland two years ago, in order end their lives together at the Eternal Spirit clinic.

FATE said they were only two of a large number of people she befriended and advised, helping many to travel to Switzerland's Dignitas assisted dying facility.

The current convener of FATE, Sheila Duffy, a long time friend said: "Dr Libby Wilson was a doughty fighter for the rights of the individual, but more importantly a warm, friendly, courageous woman who simply loved people and cared what happened to them at the beginning and the end of their life. She will be sorely missed by all those who campaign for real choice.”

Dr Wilson's work in making assisted suicide legal began after she retired and was asked if she wanted to go to a meeting of the Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

She later worked with the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald on the ill-fated bill to give terminally ill people in Scotland the legal right to assisted suicide.

Born in Surrey in 1926 she studied medicine at Kings College, London before working for 16 years in Sheffield, in the field of contraception and sexual health. One of her first jobs was opening a contraceptive clinic for unmarrieds in Sheffield in the sixties – courting much controversy and criticism, especially from churches who railed against her in the local papers. She arrived in Glasgow in 1967, after her husband Graham was offered the position of professor of medicine at Glasgow University.

She practised in Glasgow in the 60s and 70s, making sure women had access to contraceptive drugs.

Talking about her medical philosophy in 2012, she said: "I've always been a very strong believer in autonomy, and in fact my work in contraception and abortion was ethically entirely based on women having a choice."

After she retired from the family planning service in Glasgow, she spent more than a year in Sierra Leone working with the Marie Stopes International Family Planning Service.

Granddaughter Rebecca Whittington said: "She wasn't your usual grandmother. When you think of the word 'grandmother', you think of the blue rinse brigade, and Libby was the opposite of that. As a grandmother she was a real inspiration, as she has shown me that you fight for what you believe in and strive for things that are important to you.

"She was a real advocate of people having choice in their lives, so she obviously dealt with family planning in Glasgow, when there wasn't that many female GPs and she ensured women who were struggling were able to get contraception and take control over their lives. "She helped people make choices for the start of life and then she changed her focus later on in life, to help people take charge over the end of their lives.

"She knew that she wouldn't see assisted dying made legal in her lifetime. However, she also knew that the stuff she was doing would mean that maybe in my lifetime, we might see that."

Dr Wilson is survived by four daughters, two sons,18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.