Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

'Choosing a happy death'

By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, Berkshire

Dennis and Flora Milner
The Milners had told their children: "We won't be here for Christmas"

They were both healthy and enjoying life apart from a few niggling age-related complaints.

But knowing that those would eventually become worse made Dennis and Flora Milner decide to kill themselves.

After 58 years of life together they decided to die together.

Their bodies were found on Sunday morning when close friends went around to their house in Newbury, Berkshire.

In a letter sent to BBC South, accompanied by a signed statement, Mr and Mrs Milner, aged 83 and 81, explained their reasons for killing themselves.

They said they wanted to end their lives before getting to the point where they were unable to look after themselves in their own home.

'Their choice'

Their daughter Chrissy said her parents had wanted "a good death" and she and her brother Nigel fully supported their decision.

"We knew they would go before Christmas, they told us that," she said.

"When it came to autumn there were various indications that they were ready to go and that when they were ready they would take their own lives. What we didn't know was exactly when they would do it.

"We wouldn't have considered, for one moment, trying to talk them out of it.

Chrissy and Nigel support their parents' decision to take their own lives

"It was their choice to go. It was their decision to commit suicide and they had very sound reasons for doing so."

She said they both had arthritic hips and her mother had macular degeneration.

"They knew they would get worse, because that's the nature of the conditions they had, and would eventually impinge on their independence.

"They were generally fit and well, and right up until the very last moment, they were doing normal activities of daily living.

"Dad still drove his car, they still went shopping, they went out to lunch last week, they would take short walks and they carried on with normal activities and hobbies right up until their last [day].

"They were a very affectionate couple and although they had been married for a very long time they still displayed a lot of genuine affection for one another.

"One of the memories we will have is their very strong sense of humour," she says fighting back tears.

"They were very young at heart despite the fact that they were in their 80s. They loved humour and we as a family had a very unique brand of humour that was very private and personal to the family.

"It's that richness that they brought to our lives - and humour was a part it - that we will miss very much."


"I think it is desperately sad. We as a society have failed them.

"An honest and open discussion about their fears of what may occur wasn't possible.

"The people who could actually have done something to alleviate fears of what may happen - the caring and health professionals - they weren't able to really talk about them.

Debbie Purdy
Debbie Purdy has campaigned for her husband to be allowed to help her die

"I'm not sure a law would have been able to help Mr and Mrs Milner because they weren't incurably ill - old age isn't an incurable illness.

"But the point is if there is an open and honest discussion some of their fears may have been not realistic fears. They may have been things that a solution might have been found to.

"If they couldn't talk about it, they couldn't find a solution.

"That means they ended their lives earlier than would have been necessary and maybe it wouldn't have been necessary at all."


"[Mr Milner] was one of the great characters of Newbury.

"I thought his letter was very courageous and sweet - that he and his wife didn't want to be alone.

Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury
Richard Benyon does not think the law on assisted suicide should be changed

"I also thought it was very sad, sad not just to the family but also because three out of four people don't need long-term care and are able to live in their homes. But it was a decision he took.

"Should the law be changed? It's not as simple as this. If you change the law pressure will be put on people.

"This is my real worry that pressure will be put on people to end their lives because they will be a burden. It will still be relatively rare but it certainly will happen - it may be subliminal pressure."

"I just thought this was so tragic."

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