Skip to content

An interview with Prue Leith

Prue Leith Dignity in Dying patron
Prue Leith “My brother died an unnecessarily painful and protracted death”

3rd June 2014: Prue Leith will be speaking at our AGM this year. You can find out more details here:

Patron Prue Leith CBE is, among other things, a novelist, restaurateur, TV chef, food critic and broadcaster. She recently wrote in the Spectator about her brother David’s death, and her account struck a chord with many.

Prue, what made you decide to speak out about your brother’s death?

David died recently of bone cancer – his death was not the fault of the NHS, his cancer was terminal, but they spectacularly failed to manage his pain. No one should have to endure months of pain and die in agony.

What was David’s end of life experience like?

David was eventually given morphine. The blessed relief would last three hours, but the nurses would be unable to give him his next dose for another hour. So out of every four hours, one would be spent in groaning, crying, sometimes begging, agony. Consultants see their patients rarely and briefly. If they saw them in extremis, pity might move them to increase the dose — something the ward staff, who must deal with the pleading and crying, cannot do.

In the end David, determined to end the pain, refused any more antibiotics, so allowing the next dose of pneumonia to kill him. Dying of pneumonia is a horrible death. Basically you drown, slowly and painfully, as your lungs fill with mucus and you cannot breathe. David’s family had to endure the sight of their father and husband, thick green discharge running from mouth and nose, veering from semi-coma to excruciating pain. Death is always distressing, but in 2012, with all our talk of respect and consideration for others, how can it be that a wife ends up praying for her husband to please, please, just die?

How would you like to see the law change?

Surely all that is needed is something like a hospital protocol that if the patient and the next of kin want to end the misery, and two doctors agree the patient will be dead in a month anyway, the patient can choose to die. This would make it lawful for doctors to prescribe, though not to administer, a drug that would cause death. The patient would have to request it, and take it while still capable of doing so.

The present state of affairs is monstrous. With 80 per cent of the population in favour of assisted dying, what are they waiting for?

Help us campaign to change the law. Sign up to receive our e-mails for free.