Death of Dr Libby Wilson

Dr Libby Wilson, 1926–2016

Date: Tuesday 29 March 2016

It is with great regret that we announce that our former convener and medical advisor, Dr Libby Wilson died earlier today in Glasgow.

Libby, who would have celebrated her ninetieth birthday in July, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several weeks ago but refused any further medical treatment and died peacefully at her home in the West End of the city with her family around her.

Right to the end Dr Wilson 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 Libby who liaised with the two elderly cousins from Troon who travelled to Switzerland two years ago, in order end their lives together, with Dr Erika Preisaig of Life Circle. But they were only two of a large number of people she befriended and advised, helping many to travel to Dignitas.

With her fearless compassion for people and lack of concern about what ‘those in charge’ thought of her, she was regularly criticised by various church organisations and the establishment. In September 2009, in her eighties, Libby was arrested by Woking police and held in a cell for several hours on suspicion of helping a woman with advanced multiple sclerosis, to take her own life. No charges were ever brought.

Born in Surrey in 1926 she studied medicine at Kings College, London. One of her first jobs was opening a contraceptive clinic for unmarrieds in Sheffield in the sixties — courting much controversy and criticism from local worthies, especially the churches who railed against her in the local papers. Libby announced “It was the best publicity we could ever have hoped for… before then, we had been relatively quiet. After the furore in the press, women (it was mostly women) were queuing round the block to use our services.”

Moving to Glasgow with her husband, her early experiences with the domiciliary Family Planning service in the tenements and housing schemes of Glasgow were a sharp learning curve, for a middle-class woman with an English accent, but one she actually relished. Libby came to love the city and its inhabitants.

A pioneer of contraception, abortion and then assisted dying, Dr Wilson was well known for her total compassion for her patients, and down-to-earth no-nonsense attitude, especially in the area of sexual health. When one embarrassed Glasgweigian mumbled something, heeing and hawing at the family planning clinic in Claremont Crescent that she headed, Libby bluntly asked “… is the problem that you are coming too soon, or can’t get it up?”

After she retired from the Family Planning service in Glasgow, which she wrote about in her book Sex on the Rates, she spent more than a year in Sierra Leone working with the Marie Stopes International Family Planning Service. She went on to write another book about those experiences in Africa.

Libby’s husband, Professor Graham Wilson, who pre-deceased her aged only 59, was also a doctor, she was the daughter of a doctor and two of her children are doctors.

The current convener of FATE, Sheila Duffy, a long time friend of Libby’s 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.”