I don’t fear death, but, like many other people, I do fear dying badly.
This book explores assisted dying by looking boldly at the historical, medical, legal, philosophical and ethical aspects at the heart of the matter. It punctuates these with the stories of real people’s deaths, of real suffering and the ?ght that has been inspired in the people living with memories of those deaths.
Some of the people in this book, much like Peter Smedley who invited me to witness his assisted death at Dignitas, died too soon to ensure that they could die well. In years to come people will look back, aghast, at a time – this time – when people were forced to choose between living on and dying well.
This book will undoubtedly move the debate forward and help us get to the stage when the choice to die as we wish is one that we can make at home, surrounded by the things and people that have made our lives what they are. That’s a time to look forward to, when the fear of dying badly will have been consigned to history books.
Sir Terry Pratchett, October 2013
IT IS a decision we all hope we will never have to make – would you help a loved one to die if they were in pain and had no hope of recovery?
And what if you were dying and in discomfort? Would you want someone to help you end your life, comforted by the fact they would not face criminal prosecution for their actions.
These uncomfortable yet thought-provoking questions have formed the basis of a national debate which has raged for years. Some people are offended by the prospect of speeding up the process of dying and ‘playing God’. Others are offended by the thought of leaving someone to suffer in pain who wishes to die.
Lesley Close, of Stanley Hill, Amersham, had to make the decision. She chose to accompany her brother to an appointment with Dignitas, the Swiss organisation which offers to help people commit suicide.
Her book, Assisted Dying – Who Makes the Final Decision? came out on Wednesday last week, and includes a case study of her experience. The foreward, printed above, is by Sir Terry Pratchett.
It is co-edited by Jo Cartwright, campaigns and press manager for Dignity in Dying, a UK organisation which works to change the law to allow the choice of assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.
The book focuses on case studies of families who support assisted dying for different reasons, and hopes to raise awareness of the issue.
Ms Close’s brother, John Close, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2001, and in 2003 he made the decision to go to Zurich to end his own life with Dignitas. The first chapter of the book is about Ms Close’s brother.
“He couldn’t swallow, he was helpless, he wasn’t going to get better,” said Ms Close, who is 57. “He was very happy when he died.”
When Mr Close heard about motor neurone sufferer Reg Crew, who went to Zurich to end his life in January 2003, he decided that he wanted to do the same thing.
Describing how her brother felt when he made the decision to take his own life, Ms Close said: “It gave him something to live for, it gave him a huge comfort. He would have died six weeks later.”
Mr Close, who was living in a specially adapted flat in Milton Keynes, he died when he was 55.
“He deteriorated quite quickly, and by the end of the first year he was using a wheelchair all of the time, said Ms Close. “He wasn’t scared to die, he wasn’t scared about what would happen after he died.
“I supported him, I wanted him to live his life with a smile on his face.
“He embraced his life to the full, he accepted that he had to die. He had been in control of his life, it made sense that he wanted to be on control of his death.”
Before he died, Mr Close, who was a keen musician, held a party to say goodbye to his friends.
Ms Close said: “People came and sang songs, were cheerful and embraced the end of his life. All of the people supported his decision.”
Speaking of the appointment at The Dignitas clinic, she said: “The best moment was the smile he gave us, he was happy that his life was ending.
“He knew that he did not have long left to live. There was nothing that we could do to make his life more bearable, his smile was a great comfort to me.”
The Vicar of Great Missenden, Canon Rosie Harper, a member of the campaign group Inter-Faith Leaders for Assisted Dying, provided an endorsement for the book.
The foreword is by Sir Terry Pratchett, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, right-to-die campaigner and patron of Dignity in Dying.
Ms Close, who has been a spokesperson for Dignity in Dying since John died, hopes that the bill to make assisted dying legal for terminally ill adults in the UK will be passed by the House of Lords at the end of this year.
Her book, published by Peter Owen Publishers, can be bought on Amazon. It is supported by the website www.assisted-dying.info.