The death of 59-year-old man in a Derbyshire Travelodge hotel has raised many issues – from kindness and consideration to privacy and intrusive laws. More worryingly, it raises the blurry line between rational suicide and the regrettable deaths of individuals suffering emotional trauma. In other words, self-deliverance versus suicide prevention.
The newspaper story . . .
Graham Shawcroft, 59, was found dead by the hotel cleaners. He had a plastic bag filled with helium around his head. A note he had left read: “I have killed myself by hypoxia – inhaling helium”, adding that the cash was for the person who found him as he was sorry to have caused a shock.
An inquest heard that Mr Shawcroft checked in at around 7pm on June 9th. He pre-paid the room. He asked for a wake-up call at 10am. A hotel cleaner knocked loudly on his door at 10am and 11am without reply. Staff policy prohibited her from entering the room alone, but she opened the door at noon after another cleaner arrived at work. She found Mr Shawcroft’s body and told the coroner, “I was shocked and I wanted to get out of the room.”
The father-of-two had been married for 37 years to wife Susan, who left him in April. She said: “Ever since then he said he wanted me back and he couldn’t live without me. He said this all the time.”
Mrs Shawcroft said his drinking had become heavier since his father died and binge-drinking changed his character. She had left him before but returned. He once told her he had researched suicide on the internet. He later texted her: “Last Saturday for me, kid”. This led to their youngest daughter, Lora Shawcroft, checking if he was allright. She drove past his home and saw him in the garden. She thought he had sent the message in a bid to win a reconciliation with her mother.
A bank statement revealed that he bought a helium canister online from a company selling party balloons. It was connected by a tube to the clear, draw-string bag around his head. Said Deputy North Derbyshire Coroner Nigel Anderson, “It seems he was a man who planned thoroughly. He booked the Travelodge a few weeks in advance. He purchased materials with which he could take his own life and read about it, and he left a note.” Anderson added that the use of helium was becoming more frequent, both recreationally and for self-harming, and he believed “regulations may be brought in to restrict its availability.”
Thoughtfulness towards hotel staff . . .
Self-deliverance, unlike emotionally motivated suicide, often involves a considerable amount of respect for others. But in this case it seems the individual was both irrationally motivated and maintaining some thoughtfulness for those who would find the body. He was not suffering from an unbearable and unrelievable illness. Heartache, no matter how painful, usually passes with time. He needed support. But what of his consideration for the hotel staff? The report suggests it was well-meaning and even generous gesture. Though not as educated as someone planning self-deliverance might have had. Leave a tip for hotel staff by all means, but should it really be left up to housekeeping (who might well be employing young staff) to find a person recently deceased? A better tactic might be to lock oneself in the bathroom, for instance, with a large notice along the lines of Do Not Enter / Call Management / Police. There are appropriate people to take care of such things.
Restriction of helium . . .
There is no basis that this blog knows of just now to support the coroner’s suggestion that “regulations may be brought in to restrict its availability.” However, with the ludicrous panic in the U.S.A. leading to the criminalisation of Gladd bags (an elasticated plastic bag with a piece of tubing attached) who knows what might be possible. On the one hand, such intrusive policies are both misguided and ineffective. On the other hand, it underlies Exit’s stated position that the best insurance is knowing several safe, dignified and painless methods of bringing one’s life to a close in the face of unbearable and unrelievable suffering. Such knowledge is empowering, and many of our members have said how it gives hope in the face of an uncertain future. But helium is a world mass market and a very large industry. It is much easier to go after a 91-year-old-woman selling elasticated bags than it is to control a powerful and lucrative international business. The idea that party helium could be banned seems far-fetched. But in the event that it becomes a less viable means of rational suicide, members of Exit will have other means at their disposal should the need arise.
Short-sightedness in suicide prevention . . .
Again and again, studies show that limiting the means of suicide does not affect outcomes. If someone is intent on ending their life by suicide, they will choose the most attractive way they know – if that is not available they will choose the next most attractive, and so on. This is supported not only by statistics from many different countries but by psychology of the nature of suicide. One cannot prevent suicide by taking away a specific means unless you lock the person up.
Political mileage . . .
Suicide prevention is coming on by leaps and bounds but is still a worryingly difficult area. When no ready-made solution appears, it is all to easy for those in the public eye to demonise legitimate calls for self-deliverance information and access to materials. There is a need to be seen to be “doing something” – even if that ‘something’ is ineffective and even harmful. If there is no access to peaceful and dignified methods of suicide, people in both groups – terminally ill and suicidally depressed – will simply choose to take their own lives by more grisly and distressing means.