Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Sunday, 3 May 2009 13:28 UK

Ex-schools chief reveals disease

Chris Woodhead
Mr Woodhead depends on his wife for routine things like dressing

The former chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, has revealed that he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease three years ago.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he said he would rather end his life than be completely debilitated by the illness.

Mr Woodhead, who lives in Snowdonia, said: "The quality of one's life is more important than its quantity."

Motor neurone disease is a degenerative illness which attacks the nerves that control muscle movement.

The truth is I would be more likely to drive myself in a wheelchair off a cliff in Cornwall than go to Dignitas
Chris Woodhead

Mr Woodhead, 62, said he first realised something was wrong when he jumped off a rock and his legs "turned to jelly".

Formerly an avid hiker and climber, he now depends on his wife Christine to help him do routine things like dressing.

"I am clear in my own mind that it is better to end it than continue a life that is extremely frustrating for me and onerous to others who are living with me," he said.

"I find it humiliating that Christine has to do everything, even take the rubbish out, so the prospect of being completely incapable, of relying on computer-assisted breathing, or assisted speech, is not one I would ever want to tolerate."

But the former schools boss said he had ruled out travelling to a right-to-die organisation like Dignitas in Switzerland.

'Mercifully gradual'

"The truth is I would be more likely to drive myself in a wheelchair off a cliff in Cornwall than go to Dignitas and speak to a bearded social worker," he said.

"I have no immediate plans to kill myself. The progress of the disease has been mercifully gradual. I hope that I have several years of reasonable life left."

Mr Woodhead was attacked by teaching unions after saying 4.2% of the profession was not up to the job.

He resigned after a series of rows with the then education secretary David Blunkett.



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