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British Couple’s Assisted Suicide Reignites Debate

Independent Television News reports on the decision by one of the world's most famous conductors and his wife to take their lives. Their deaths have reignited a debate in Europe over assisted suicide.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the finale of a most distinguished orchestral conductor. Stephanie West of Independent Television News reports on the assisted suicide of Sir Edward Downes and his terminally ill wife.

  • STEPHANIE WEST, Independent Television News:

    Loved by his musicians and revered by the opera world, Sir Edward Downes never sought the limelight. Instead, he kept a low profile and had the reputation of a stalwart master of the baton, a workhorse with a passion for Verdi.

    By the time of his death, he conducted 25 of the Italian composer's 28 operas in a career lasting more than half a century.

    ANTONIO PAPPANO, music director, Royal Opera House: He would never give in until he got what he thought was the most important thing for the music at the moment. He loved the details. He loved the history of opera. He loved what was behind the notes. He loved the words.

    And, together with his wife, they made quite an awesome couple, actually, because they were sort of made for each other. They were very strong, and practical, and full of life, and full of energy.

  • STEPHANIE WEST:

    Born in Birmingham in 1924, the composer met his future wife, a ballet dancer and choreographer, after he joined the Covent Garden Opera back in 1953.

    Later, she became dedicated to her husband's career, working as his personal assistant, as he continued to conduct until he turned 80, even though his eyesight had, as he described it, virtually collapsed when he was 71.

    His wife was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and the children today revealed, even though their father wasn't terminally ill, after Joan was given just weeks to live, the couple decided they should both bow out.

  • SPOKESMAN:

    After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems. Our father was 85 years old, almost blind, and increasingly deaf. They died peacefully and under circumstances of their own choosing.

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