Family planning doctor and right-to-die campaigner

Born: June 3, 1926;

Died: March 29, 2016

DR ELIZABETH Wilson, known as Libby, who has died aged 89 following a short illness, was a family planning doctor and right-to-die campaigner. She was a founder of one of the first family planning services for single women in the UK and later campaigned with the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald on the Assisted Suicide Bill.

The eldest of three children, she was born in Surrey to Lucy and James Bell Nicoll, who had not long returned to the UK from their missionary work in Africa. In her 2004 autobiographical account of her family planning work, Sex on the Rates, she said she could not remember a time when she did not want to be a doctor and, inspired by her father, followed the path into medicine, training at King’s College Hospital, London.

In 1949, she married Dr Graham Wilson, a brilliant graduate from Edinburgh University and RAF veteran, who met his future wife while working as a research fellow at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The couple were married for 28 years and raised six children together before he died from stomach cancer in 1977, on the day before his 60th birthday.

During their early married life, the couple lived in Sheffield, where they brought up their four daughters and two sons, and where Dr Wilson’s interest in family planning began. Initially working in general practice in the early 1950s, she became aware of the difficulties in obtaining contraceptive advice, especially if you were unmarried.

She was a founder of the 408 Clinic, one of the first family planning services available in the country for single women. In 1967, when the family moved to Glasgow in order for Graham to take up the Chair of Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow, Dr Wilson focused her full attention on family planning and sexual health.

The family settled at a four-floor terrace house in the west end of the city. Dr Wilson worked for the Family Planning Association and at Black Street venereology clinic in Glasgow. She set up the innovative domiciliary family planning service and later became full-time clinical coordinator of the Glasgow Family Planning Service.

Colourful anecdotes of her time as a family planning doctor in a city divided by orange and green, by the matriarchy and the patriarchy and by class and society, can be read in her own words in Sex on the Rates. During this time she refused to let societal conformities stop her in her own mission of giving women of all ages, colours and classes choice over childbearing and sexual health.

With her clear-cut English accent and mischievous sense of humour she stepped over the thresholds and boundaries of women living in the most varied of circumstances, from dire poverty to middle-class society, and offered help and support in the form of the pill or ‘just a little jag’ of the contraceptive injection. She remembered on one occasion meeting a patient in a Glasgow steamie in order to administer her injection without her husband knowing.

Following her retirement aged 64, she went to Sierra Leone for a year to work with Marie Stopes International and in 1997, she published a book called Unexpected Always Happen, documenting her year in Africa.

On her return she became a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland after being introduced by a friend. Later, with others, she set up Friends at the End (Fate), which continues to run to this day.

Through her work with Fate, she pushed for right-to-die legislation in both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster; campaigning with Margo MacDonald on the Assisted Suicide Bill. The Bill was rejected by a majority vote in 2015, but Dr Wilson was so proud of the appearance and impact of the debate in Holyrood that a copy of the Bill, signed by Margo MacDonald, was proudly hung on her bathroom wall, among fading artworks by her grandchildren and humorous references to her life as a family planning doctor.

Her work with Fate also saw her work with those living with incurable illnesses and conditions who wanted to explore their end-of-life options.

In 2009, at the age of 83, she was arrested by Surrey Police on suspicion of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a suicide. The arrest was made following the death of Cari Loder, 48, who had multiple sclerosis. The charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

A regular on television and radio until her late 80s, she was not one to shy away from the controversy often caused by her campaigns. Instead she spoke freely about her beliefs and used the publicity to further promote her causes, always driven by the principles of allowing people to make choices about the start and end of life.

She was a great traveller, visiting friends and family across the globe and throughout the UK. Her annual trips to Australia to see her sister and brother were very important to her and continued until last year. She will be buried at her beloved holiday property on Loch Sunart, where her whole family have had so much happy time together.

Despite being widowed relatively young after a very happy marriage, she continued to be the focus of family life. She was a much-loved sister, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is survived by siblings Alison and John, children Margaret, John, Penny, Rosie, Richard and Diana, grandchildren Kathie, Jenny, Anna, Lucy, Alex, Imogen, Rebecca, Rosie, George, Robbie, Eric, Ciara, Rory, Philippa, Ninian, Edward, Beth and William, and great-grandchildren Billy, Tommy, Lizzie, Art, William, George and Donal.