I’ll have a first class ticket to Dignatas and keep the martinis coming…
In October of last year Sandra Holmes allegedly told a care home she was taking her dad with Parkinson's on holiday. A doctor is believed to have assessed him as being fit to travel and make his own decisions before he reportedly left the home with his daughter on October 23. Six days later, the care home was informed that Mr. Lenton had travelled to the Swiss clinic Dignatas and had ended his own life. The home then contacted Conwy Council’s safeguarding adults team, who advised it to contact North Wales Police, who are now looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lenton.
In 2008, Daniel James, a 23 year old rugby player, was the youngest Briton to die at the Dignitas clinic, which he attended with his parents, who had admitted that they helped him end "a second-class existence". A criminal investigation was launched on their return to the UK, but in a landmark decision, the Crown Prosecution Service said that it was not in the public interest to press charges against the couple.
Daniel, a former schoolboy international, was paralysed from the chest down after his spine was dislocated when a scrum collapsed while training with Nuneaton Rugby Club in March last year. His mother defended her son's decision, saying: "He couldn't walk, had no hand function, but he had constant pain in all of his fingers. He was incontinent, suffered uncontrollable spasms in his legs and upper body and needed 24-hour care."
Under UK law, it’s a crime to encourage or assist a suicide, and the offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. With end of life choice limited under current British law, it is believed up to 10 UK citizens a month choose to die at Dignitas, which was set up in 1998.
One old and one young man both made a decision to end their lives through choice and with dignity.
As someone marching towards the age of 50, part of me laughed and part of me sighed after hearing the words of an elderly relative over the weekend: “This old age is not for sissies.” Bar the Northern Irish sense of humour, her point highlighted how hard and illness-filled our twilight years can potentially be. It’s doubtful anyone wants to spend their last few years in a care home, unable to live independently or look after themselves, something we take for granted when we are young. I wince at the prospect of being old and not being able to wash, dress or feed myself. What would be the point in living any longer?
I’m not dwelling on what life will be like for me when I’m 90 (if I make it that far), but I hope that by then, the law will be more supportive and sympathetic to how some wish to end their lives. The truth is you have a better chance of being looked after in your old age if you have children. I would do anything for my parents and part of that is being there for them, as they get old. That choice is not out of duty. It’s about love, dedication and appreciation. I won’t be having children so that support system may be non-existent when I’m their age.
A close friend has an idea I quite like – a commune (not a care home) for the elderly; living with fellow ‘old’ friends in an environment of choice (a house we all buy) where we all contribute financially and emotionally. We know that part of old age is about loss, the most poignant being the loss of friends of a similar age. I’d rather not spend it lonely.
I’m not afraid of old age – it's (hopefully) going to happen whether I like it or not. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it either and I haven’t got around to setting up the Dignatas savings account just yet.
Hopefully I’ll end up like Grace & Frankie (if you haven't seen it, do it now) living in a beach house in Malibu getting stoned and drinking martinis. Either way, and this is something Frankie (Lily Tomlin) would say: “Take me to Dignatas because if I can't do it, no else is!”
I think that episode was called ‘The Ass Wipe.’