He had been a senior civil servant and later became Director General of the British Council. He courageously spoke out about how his beloved sister ended her life, with his support, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, because he wanted to see the law changed in this country and didn’t want dying Britons to have to travel abroad to be assisted to die.
John’s sister Lucy was diagnosed with terminal cancer aged 52 and she knew she didn’t want to suffer at the end of her life. John and Lucy discussed her decision to end her life at home with medication from a medic friend of theirs, and he was the one who discovered his sister’s body the following day. He fully supported Lucy’s decision to be in control of the end of her life, and this belief never wavered.
I had the pleasure of meeting John on a numerous occasions. He was warm and generous and kind and had an unmistakable twinkle in his eye – a true gentleman. I was astonished to learn that he was in his late 80’s; the last time I saw him, a few months ago, he was brimming with life. I only ever heard him speak kindly of others and he was incredibly encouraging of the work Dignity in Dying was doing.
Dignity in Dying is fortunate to have many Patrons, and it would be wrong to have favourites; but if I were to do so, John would definitely be up there. I am so very sad that John won’t be here to see the law change, but have no doubt that his involvement, and courage in speaking out about the way his sister died will have helped us get there when we do.
Sir John Burgh 1925-2013