NEW - Susan McArthur
On 30th October 2009 my husband Duncan died peacefully in our home with a glass of his favourite tipple by his side and me, his wife of 42 years, holding his hand. This sounds like 'a good death' and indeed it was except for the fact that it was illegal. This is because Duncan took his own life and I was by his side. He was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease and had reached a stage when his life was no longer acceptable.
Duncan was diagnosed with MND in September 2006. This was devastating news for both of us and our family. I think that Duncan's major fear was the loss of control of his own destiny and within days of diagnoses and research on the inevitable consequences of the disease his decision was made, he declared emphatically that he was not prepared to see it out to the end and would therefore end his life at a time of his choosing. The first thought was of course Switzerland and he carefully researched this option and even joined Dignitas. I was prepared to support him in whatever decision he made and he knew that I would always care and look after him if he changed his mind. He did not however want to put either of us through the stress of a journey to Switzerland and began to research other ways. He fretted and panicked until he acquired the means to end his life in his own home and at a time of his choosing. Once this had been achieved he relaxed and did his best to enjoy the time he had left. We spent a lifetime travelling as Duncan's career had taken us all over the world so he had no elaborate plans or list of things to do, he just wanted to spend his time in the home that he loved with family and friends. The next two and a half years were difficult, watching him progress from a limp to a walker and finally hoist and a wheelchair. Of course there was also the worry of what would happen if it all went wrong - I had many sleepless nights pondering all the 'what ifs'. Interestingly Duncan never had any doubts that the plans he had made would be successful. Then came the day when he told me he had made the decision and that it was time to go. I knew that the progress of the disease had accelerated significantly and he was beginning to have breathing difficulties. His left hand was very weak and he was beginning to slump over in his wheelchair, I was constantly having to hoist him up. He was getting very little sleep, finding it difficult to get comfortable and needed to be turned two or three times during the night. He hated having to disturb me and I know he used to leave it as long as he possibly could before calling me. He had his own list of criteria and had obviously decided that his time had come. When I asked him if he was sure that he wanted to go through with his plan he told me of how he knew that the disease was moving very fast and that within a very short period of time he would be unable to self-administer. He was quite sure and seemed at peace. The last two nights before he died he had the best nights' sleep he had had in months, he was resigned, even cheerful.
He was the best of men - brave, determined and incredibly courageous.
Following Duncan's death there was a Police inquiry and the case was submitted to the DPP. He would have been devastated at this turn of events, although I was not surprised. He had done all he could to protect me including leaving a file with the necessary information and disclaimers labelled for the Police. This was an extremely stressful time for all the family when all we wanted to do was grieve for Duncan and say our farewells. We were unable to hold his funeral until 16th December. This seemed a particularly cruel situation, can toxicology really take that long? There was no prosecution, under new guidelines it was deemed not to be in the public interest. The inquest finally took place in October 2010, almost a year after Duncan's death. The coroner recorded a narrative verdict.
I miss my husband and best friend. He had a wonderful sense of humour and comic timing and ours was a house full of laughter. He could always make a bad situation easier and never failed to put a smile on my face during times of crisis. I was very lucky to have had him for as long as I did, he will always be in my heart.
There has to be a better way for people like Duncan who are suffering from a terminal illness and are in possession of all their faculties. He made an informed decision, the great sadness is that he was unable to do this legally.
Susan McArthur, Surrey
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