A need for better laws, better information. Not backstreet paracetamol!

Rita Warren, whose stepfather may have suffered needlessly by overdosing with paracetamol

People don’t end their lives because of access to information. People don’t end their lives because of laws in Switzerland allowing them to. People end their lives by suicide because they have an overriding desire to end their suffering.

In many cases, that suffering will stop one day or can be relieved. That is why we provide links to the Samaritans and to Palliative Care organisations. But some suffering, in individual cases, cannot. For those whose suffering and indignity is so great, and is both unrelievable and unbearable to the individual concerned, it is better that they have access to good information, good laws, good medical assistance, and the open support – where possible – of their loved ones.

Death by paracetamol is not only unreliable – it is potentially very painful. Not in all cases, but in many. If overdose is not treated swiftly, before symptoms set in, then it becomes very difficult to treat. The person may not die – but they might, for instance, be hooked up to dialysis for the rest of their life. On top of whatever suffering was making their life so unbearable that they wanted it to end sooner rather than later. Such a person can become a prisoner of their surroundings, with no option to control their own destiny.

Established photographer, 86-yr-old Mr Fred Johnstone, who had suffered with a curved spine which affected his lungs and breathing, as well as having poor hearing and sight, may have taken around 100 paracetamol pills prior to his death on January 14. So found the Coroner’s Court. His stepdaugther Rita, a former psychiatric nurse, said she would have been willing to help him go to Switzerland.

Lack of information on how to achieve a peaceful death – for instance, by helium or compression – does not save lives. It just makes deaths more miserable. Not only for the person concerned: but for those left behind.

Most persons who purchase information books on how to die, such as Departing Drugs or Five Last Acts II, never use the information. They simply die peacefully without needing to take matters into their own hands. Many people who join Dignitas never use their services. But the gain experienced by both groups of people is certainty. Certainty in respect of an unknown future. Knowledge – not faith – that death can be painless. And with that comes the security to fight on.

Lancaster Guardian Story
Fred Johnstone photography

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