Does it really have to come to this??

 John and Robert McIlwain will be missed by those who knew them. Frail but friendly members of the local community, they tended their shared garden and even helped with that of their neighbour in the leafy cul-de-sac – at least while their health permitted.  They were described as “good neighbours and good people”; and the floral tribute left outside their home read: “RIP Bob and Jack. Two lovely gentlemen. Its been a privilege to know you and call you friends. You will be missed by us all.” Residents in the beautiful street in the Gracemount area of Edinburgh said how the brothers, who were very private persons, would have been “shocked” by the arrival of armed officers and a police helicopter.

What was their story, of a simple life well lead, and a sudden, violent end that they saw as their only option?

The two brothers were aged 71 and 73 at the time that they died. Bob had worked with asbestos in his younger days and that had resulted in lung problems. He understood that treatments were very limited and also what the disease had and would do to him. Suddenly becoming more frail over recent months, he had taken to using his brother’s mobility scooter and was using oxygen for breathing problems related to his asbestos- related pulmonary fibrosis.

John had been disabled from birth by a hip problem, but could get around until his later years, when he became housebound, with his brother Bob looking after him. Both been keen golfers at one time, but their health had deteriorated over the years, becoming much worse about 18 months ago. Like Bob, John suffered from asbestosis, for which there is no cure.

A few weeks before their deaths, they had asked around at their neighbours, having no surviving family, to find someone to witness signing their wills. Said one of the neighbours, “Bob loved to look after his garden, and even helped with other people’s, including mine, but he wasn’t able to do that any longer because of his health. It was hard for him to give it up. He had to hire a gardener to do it for him. I last saw him on Tuesday and he just waved at me as he stood at his door.”

Both Bob and John were licensed firearm holders. A police source said: “We received a call from a man who claimed he was going to kill himself. When police arrived, two bodies were found in the house.”  The two brothers were found slumped on top of a firearm, with gunshot wounds to the stomach, at around 6pm last Thursday (29th May 2014). Rush-hour traffic in the area was gridlocked for more than two hours as police closed off a one-mile stretch of nearby Lasswade Road, a main commuter route. A police helicopter was also called in to observe the scene from the air. Police denied any suggestion that one brother had shot the other, insisting that it was a double suicide and with no suspicious circumstances.

“I think it was a brave thing for them to do,” said another neighbour. “Bob knew he wasn’t going to get better and he saw what was ahead of him. It’s very sad and they will be missed.”

Anne Parker, 83, who lived next door to the brothers, said, “There was no evil in them, they were as good as gold. They were very thoughtful,” and added, “I can only imagine that they had planned it and that it was done out of love.”

John and Bob McIlwain lived at Lockerby Cottages is a quiet residential street off Lasswade Road owned by the Lockerby Trust, set up in 1894 for “distressed gentlefolk who had fallen on hard times.”

What do you think? Was their death justified? Should there be gentler options for folk who feel they want to end their lives in unbearable circumstances? Is the police furore a fitting end to what should have been a private affair, or even a good use of public resources?


Further reading
Asbestosis (medical outline)
Asbestos Awareness (British Lung Foundation)
Pulmonary Fibrosis (NHS guide)
‘Gunmen’ headline (Daily Record)
What to do after a death in Scotland (Scottish Executive bereavement advice)
Send your views to the Holyrood Committee on the current Assisted Suicide Bill (intro)
Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill (Scottish Parliament)
Exit’s general legislative recommendations and principles

Warning: The result of a failed suicide attempt, frequently through inadequate knowledge of guns, can be horrific.
See for instance: this Neurosurgery page or this Wikipedia page, or this presentation on difficulties of non-fatal aftermaths.
Firearms suicide and attempted suicide is less common in the UK than in the USA.

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2 Responses to Does it really have to come to this??

  1. John Edwards says:

    A very poignant story. Certainly the police response seems a great waste of public money and, to my wife and I, the way they chose to end their lives seems sadly far too violent. But if they were both used to guns, it might have seemed very appropriate to them and that’s all that matters.
    All I know is that if we ever have to resort to ending either (or both) of our lives we would want to do it at home, like the brothers did, not travelling to Switzerland, hopefully passing away peacefully in our sleep through carbon monoxide poisoning. We have a couple of portable barbeques in the garage and so could do it tomorrow if needed!
    Fortunately we still have our health and minds and can enjoy life so the thought of using them soon does not enter onto our horizon. But it’s good to know a simple and very effective method of ‘self-deliverance’ is out there for anybody to use.

  2. Kohavah says:

    In the above mentioned article; two men made the choice to end their time in this world; through the venue of guns. This was their choice, no problem with that.

    However, when one of the men made the decision to red flag the event by calling in the authorities, those in power, understandably brought in armed guards, to protect their own
    existence, and to possibly protect anyone else who could be in the way of some random

    This is merely cause and effect. Do this, and this will happen. Since the two brothers freed themselves, who cares if an entire army came to stop them, after the fact. They accomplished what they set out to do, and they were successful. All went as planned. Operation “Exit” was a
    wonderful success.

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