“I helped my son to end his life” … a revelation which left the audience at the Lancashire Secular Humanists meeting temporarily speechless as they absorbed the immense courage and compassion demonstrated by Heather, who accompanied Susie Vane-Tempest of Dignity in Dying (DiD), when they addressed the LSH meeting at Great Eccleston Village Centre last Wednesday evening (16th January).
Heather (also a member of DiD) told of how two of her five children had inherited Huntington’s Disease.
One son, a gifted artist, had made the decision to end his life once his condition had deteriorated to such an extent that not only was he no longer able to paint but was finding it almost impossible to care for himself; even though, despite continuing unpreventable deterioration, he would in all probability survive another five to eight years.
He was a man who valued greatly his independence and abhorred the very idea that 24 hour nursing care was ultimately inevitable; consequently he had been discussing his decision to end his life (at a time of his choosing) with his loving family over a period of two years and on the occasion of his last birthday he informed his mother that this was the day he had chosen to die.
He told her he had persuaded friends to supply him with the only birthday present he truly wanted – heroin- so as to end his life, and that he’d taken an overdose (which he eventually resorted to swallowing due to the fact that, despite many attempts, his condition made it impossible for him to inject) and that even though he had no wish to die alone he would fully understand if she did not want to stay. But; if she did stay, she had to promise that she would not allow his suicide to be unsuccessful.
Of course she wasn’t going to leave him alone! Heather made him comfortable then lay down on the bed beside him and they talked about all he had done in his life, the happy family times they’d enjoyed and all the other things their family will never forget; and continued talking until he fell asleep.
Heather fell asleep herself and when she woke his breathing was erratic and shallow; his face was white, his lips blue … but he was still alive. She took a pillow and placed it over his face until she was certain he was dead, and then phoned the police and an ambulance.
She never attempted to deny, or in any way mitigate, what she had done but at her trial, forensic experts on both side concurred that it was his overdose that killed him and therefore her actions could not be construed as murder or manslaughter; however she was convicted, on her own admission, of assisting in his suicide.
Her story was truly moving and there were more than a few tears shed in the audience as her story unfolded.
Emotions were mixed between admiring her undeniable and unwavering love for her son; but tinged with outrage that the law in this country is such that both he and she had been forced into such a situation; and that Heather herself should then be branded a criminal having acted entirely out of love for him, respect for his wishes and compassion for his predicament.
Heather went on to explain how another son, also with Huntington’s Disease, is an entirely different character.
He has no desire to end his life prematurely. A decision that is absolutely respected by all his loving family who will continue to do all they can to make his life as rich and fulfilling as possible until his inevitable death.
Susie Vane-Tempest explained how, despite DiD’s support, The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill (ADTI) Bill was narrowly defeated last year, almost entirely due to the Bench of Bishops turning out in force and voting in unison; despite the fact that every opinion poll in recent years consistently indicates that 80% of the population agree that *mentally competent, terminally ill people with six months or less to live who make persistent, well informed, voluntary requests and are suffering unbearably should be able to choose to receive medical help to die*. [*The entire scope of the Bill*] Interestingly 81% of those who describe themselves as Anglicans and Catholics support that wording; which begs the question; who are the Bench of Bishops supposed to be representing?
Susie described how, in addition to the narrow parameters of who should have access to ADTI (if they so choose) there are over 20 safeguards built in to the Bill to protect the vulnerable.
She then informed her audience about Living Wills and various other assistance and advice that DiD can supply.
Suzie & Heather waived any travel expenses LSH were planning to give them asking instead for that money to be sent to DiD; with that the audience held a collection which was added to the LSH cheque and forwarded to DiD HQ.
Anybody seeking further information can access it a www.dignityindying.org.uk … or via LSH’s own website www.lancashiresecularhumanists.co.uk or come to future LSH meetings and pick up DiD literature there.