BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 13:06 GMT
Head to head: The right-to-die debate
A paralysed woman fighting for the right to die has taken her case to the High Court claiming she has almost no chance of her condition improving.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is thought to be the first person in Britain to ask a court to switch off her ventilator.

BBC News Online looks at the arguments for and against the right-to-die.

Alison Davis, 47, is a spina bifida patient, who attempted to end her own life on several occasions:

I have spina bifida, emphysema and osteoporosis.

Basically my spine is collapsing and my condition is going to get worse rather than better.

The first time I felt I wanted to die was in 1985 and the wish to die lasted about 10 years.

For the first five years I was frequently taking steps to end my life.

The means varied according to what I had access to: an overdose of pain killers, drinking a lot and slashing my wrists, from which I still bear the scars.

I made three or four serious attempts over five years.

Some were serious attempts and some were cries for help.

Alison Davis
Alison Davis; Tried to end her life
At the end of the five years I still wanted to die, but realised the effects it would have on friends around me, which made me think 'I want to carry on'.

Had euthanasia been legal then, I know I would have requested it.

Had it been possible to end my life legally I would have done it.

But now I'm glad I didn't even though I still have the same degree of pain.

What's changed is that I'm surrounded by friends who tell me I'm not right to feel my life doesn't have any value.

I can understand how desperate this woman is.

I know what it feels like, but in this case, I think a year is not enough time to have adjusted to what's an extremely difficult situation.

I don't think these sorts of decisions are helpful for her and disabled people in general.

I think she needs the kind of support I have had to get her through this difficulty.

I think it takes more courage to live, I really do.

Jean Davies is the former president of Right to Die Europe:

She has the right to refuse all medical treatment so the law isn't in much doubt.

It may be that she is irrational, but I wouldn't think so because there have been many other cases of people in her position who have wanted the same thing.

I don't know the details of this case, but I do know of a Spanish case where a young man had been on life support for very much longer than this woman had.

Jean Davies
Jean Davies: Patient has right-to-die
He was on a breathing machine and not a ventilator though.

He applied for all his drugs and feeding to be stopped and for the drugs that would enable him to die peacefully.

It went right through the Spanish courts and he went to the European courts and he was turned down and in the end he got 11 friends all to help him commit suicide and the idea was that then no one of the friends could be charged with aiding his suicide.

This is a clear-cut case of euthanasia in that the period between when she has the machine switched off and she dies would be very distressing unless she had the appropriate drugs.

I do know that at the NHS hospital where I live - in the renal unit - that people with kidney failure, if they're having dialysis and they have been on it for years and it's very onerous and they ask to have it disconnected, then that's agreed to and they do give them the necessary drugs so that the day or so it takes them to die is not distressing for them.

So although I don't know all the details, that complexity still comes into it.

See also:

18 Oct 01 | Health
Woman loses right-to-die case
31 Aug 01 | Health
Right-to-die fight - what next?
20 Aug 01 | Broadband
Woman fights for right to die
28 Nov 00 | Euthanasia
Euthanasia and the law
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories