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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
'We were there as she died'
By Edward Turner

As the Lords debate a bill which supports physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, Edward Turner - whose mother went to Dignitas in Switzerland to end her life - explains why he backs the proposal.

In November 2004, our mother Anne announced that she had been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, an incurable degenerative neurological illness.

Anne Turner
Anne Turner invited the BBC to travel with her to Switzerland

As if this weren't enough to take on board at the time, she also announced in the same breath that she planned to end her life, rather than allow her illness to run its natural course.

This was a logical decision for her, as she was a long-standing member of Dignity in Dying, and had always believed strongly in the right of the individual to opt for an assisted death in these very circumstances.

She had also nursed our father through another degenerative neurological illness and had seen his quality of life erode over a period of years to the extent that, when he died, he was virtually a breathing corpse.

She did not want the same outcome for herself.

Suicide attempt

Our immediate reaction was a combination of enormous grief at the prospect of losing our mother, as we are a very close family, but also of logical acceptance of her course of action.

If our mother hadn't gone to Zurich to die, she would have had a miserable existence, waiting for her illness to kill her over a period of months and years.
Edward Turner

However, in the coming months we tried every possible course of action to distract or dissuade her from carrying out her threat.

We knew we were being selfish, but losing our mother was the worst thing we could imagine.

It was only in October 2005, after a failed DIY suicide attempt at home, that we realised that nothing we could do would stop her from ending her life.

We could either support her in her hour of need, or we could turn our backs on our own mother and let her die a painful death alone.

The latter option was unthinkable to us.

We therefore decided to contact the Dignitas clinic in Zurich to arrange for an assisted suicide.

Once our mother had received the "green light" from Dignitas, her whole attitude to life changed.

It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders, allowing her to enjoy life, without fear as to what the future would bring.

Messages of support

There were many occasions in the run-up to our trip to Switzerland where we shed tears together as a family and where we really questioned our mother's motivation.

But the final couple of days which we spent together in Zurich were surprisingly calm.

We had all said our goodbyes long before, and we felt that there was nothing left unsaid between us, so that we could just focus on the task in hand - supporting our mother and being with her as she died.

If our mother hadn't gone to Zurich to die, she would have had a miserable existence, waiting for her illness to kill her over a period of months and years.

I am so thankful that she enjoyed her last weeks with us, safe in the knowledge that she would be spared what for her would have been an undignified end.

On our return from Switzerland we were swamped with messages of support from everyone: friends and strangers alike.

We realised that we weren't alone and that our mother's case had struck a chord with the vast majority of the country. We received not one offensive or unsupportive message.

Lord Joffe's bill is very welcome and would give the UK the most advanced assisted dying legislation anywhere in the world - and with the largest number of safeguards.

I agree with the faith groups' belief that life is to be treasured and celebrated.

But there comes a point in every life-cycle when we must accept that death is logical, timely and kind.

Our mother was a very determined and, at times, combative woman.

She felt acutely the injustice of being unable to die in her own country at a time which was right for her, as much as she felt the injustice that she, as a wealthy woman supported by her family, could afford to go to Dignitas.

She wanted assisted dying to be available to everyone, not just the well-off. We can now see clearly that what she did was right for her.

We are so enormously proud of her.

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