Orpington woman shares views on assisted dying as peers debate in the House of Lords
PUBLISHED: 08:44 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 08:54 21 July 2014
A woman whose mother watched as her brother took a fatal overdose rather than endure a dehabilitating hereditary disease says those facing a similar path should have the right to take their own life.
This comes after Friday’s second reading of the Assisted Dying Bill at the House of Lords.
More than 130 peers wanted to contribute their views regarding Lord Falconer’s bill, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses to mentally competent patients who have terminal illnesses and under six months to live, who request the life ending medication.
It is an argument that is by no means simple, with strong opinions expressed on both sides.
British Medical Association council chair Mark Porter said earlier this month the BMA remained “firmly opposed” to legalised assisted dying, and political and religious figures have also voiced concerns.
Heather Pratten and her daughter Deborah Goodman have a different view.
Heather helped her son commit suicide on his 42nd birthday.
Nigel had been suffering from Huntington’s Disease, a hereditary disease marked by degeneration of the brain cells causing chorea and progressive dementia, for eight years.
His father and aunt had suffered from it too, and after seeing what they had gone through he told his family he wanted to die.
Nigel took a large amount of heroin, and his mother stayed with him until he passed away.
She put a pillow over his head when she believed he was very close to death, but an inquest found he had such a substantial amount of the drug in his system that this was not what killed him.
The Assisted Dying Bill would not cover people who made the same choice, but it is one step closer to allowing people with incurable illnesses to end their lives if they choose to.
Deborah, of Orpington, has written a memoir called Hummingbird where she describes how this affected the family.
She said: “My mum helped me with the chapters of my book that are to do with her experiences with my brother and it talks about the whole experience. It tells the whole story.
“It was difficult for both of us but we became closer for it.
“She was charged initially with murder, I mean can you imagine? It was changed to aiding and abetting. She never said ‘I was frightened’ but she must have been. What she said is, ‘I never had any regrets’ so she was prepared to go to prison.
“My mum shouldn’t have really had to face that on her own. I think the law should have been changed even further to be honest, to include those who have a terminal illness who may not be at the end of their life.
“This is at least something towards alleviating people suffering towards the end of their life.”
Although Deborah understands people have differing opinions, she said: “I would say that I respect their beliefs but if people were animals it would be illegal to let them suffer. God gives us free choice. We have free choice, why should man take that free choice away from us?”
Heather could have received a 14 year prison sentence, but the judge decided she had suffered enough and instead issued a one year conditional discharge.
Since then, Heather has been campaigning for Dignity in Dying and in a video on support.dignityindying.org.uk, said: “We’ve got to the state where life can be prolonged but sometimes is there a time when it’s not worth prolonging? And for these few people that are brave enough to say I don’t want to suffer any longer, there should be enough safe guards in place to make sure that it is a proper decision and I would like to see a change in the law.”
Others strongly disagree with the bill.
Father Tom McHugh, of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Parish Church, Bromley, said: “I am opposed to the bill. I don’t think it’s necessary. From what I know of people who are involved in hospice care, there is no need for anybody to die in pain. If proper medical attention is given to them, what we should be doing is assisting people to live with dignity until their last breath.
“I believe that all life is the gift of God and God determines our origins and our final destiny.
“If the bill is passed then it will make vulnerable people more vulnerable. People who may feel a burden on society because of some disability or other may feel pressure.
“I think it’s just simply very unwise.”
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