Death wish denied led to the happiest years of my life
Monday, 1 February 2010
Your report on Lynn Gilderdale (27 January) worried me greatly. This is because however a law allowing assisted suicide is framed, and however many "safeguards" it has, it would not have saved me when I wanted to die. In fact, I think few people can understand Lynn's desperate and ongoing wish to die better than I can. And yet still I say the law should not allow actions such as hers, regardless of how disabled or determined is the one requesting it, and how "loving and compassionate" is the person asked to assist.
I use a wheelchair full-time, having spina bifida, hydrocephalus, emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis. Like Lynn, I desperately wanted a child, and had to come to terms with the knowledge that I never would. I have severe pain every day, and, as with Lynn, morphine doesn't always alleviate it. I also have crushed and fractured vertebra, caused by my osteoporotic bones, which means additional pain. Typing this causes even more pain, due to arthritis in my fingers, wrists and elbows. But writing this letter is important, despite the pain.
Twenty-five years ago, I, like Lynn, decided I wanted to die, a settled and entirely competent death wish that lasted for 10 years. During those years I attempted suicide more than once. On the occasion I best remember, I was treated against my will by doctors, who saved my life. Then, I was very angry with the doctors who saved my life, but now I'm extremely grateful. Yet because of the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act, and the Director of Public Prosecutions' new guidelines, if similar circumstances obtained now, I would be left to die.
Had someone taken the apparently "common sense, decent and humane" decision to end my life all those years ago, no doubt a jury would also have given my "helper" a conditional discharge, if that.
But I would actually have missed the best years of my life, notwithstanding pain that is worse now than it was when I wanted to die. No one would ever have known that the future held something better for me, not in terms of physical ability, but in terms of support and the love of friends who refused to accept my view that my life was "over".
It's very easy to give up on a body as "broken" as Lynn's or mine, and it can be tough to continue. But it is possible to come out the other side of a death wish, to use well the time that would otherwise have been lost, and to demonstrate that life is precious and worth living, despite many serious challenges.
Blandford Forum, Dorset