My brother’s letter to the National Newspapers
My mother is nearly 80. She could have spent the last 14 years in prison for assisting my brother’s suicide.Like my father and my aunt, in middle age my brother Nigel became ill with the incurable, degenerative Huntingtons Disease. He knew what to expect, and kept going for as long as possible before attempting suicide when the suffering became too great. He failed because by then he had become too ill to succeed alone. Out of hospital for a day on his 42nd birthday, he begged my mother to help him; she did so because she loved him, and because that was the only way he would be able to die when he needed to. At the Old Bailey for sentencing she was lucky that the judge acknowledged the ghastly circumstances and shared her compassion, and discharged her.
It is a sad and shameful fact that Nigel would have been entitled to greater legal protection from suffering if he had been a family pet; we could have been prosecuted for not ending his misery much sooner. Like about 80% of the population, we think that the cruelty of making terminally ill people prolong their suffering when they do not want to is barbaric and that the law should allow some people dying miserably from incurable disease more control over how they die.
There are far too many families with experiences like ours. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is based on the law which has operated successfully in Oregon for 17 years, allowing terminally ill adults who meet strict upfront safeguards the option to take life-ending medication. No more people have died because of this, and a lot of pain and suffering has been prevented by putting patient choice and the wishes of the individual at the heart of end of life legislation.