JENNI MURRAY: Why I have a right-to-die pact with my best friends

JENNI MURRAY: Why I have a right-to-die pact with two of my best friends

  • Jenni Murray said she watched her mother’s experience with Parkinson’s disease
  • UK-based columnist says she made a pact with two close friends in her mid-50s
  • Were any of them to end up in a situation, they would find a way to assist suicide 

It was 2007, both my parents had died, at the age of 80, within a few months of each other. My father’s death from lung cancer was a short and beautifully handled affair after two weeks in a hospice where he could not have had better care.

I’ve always wondered if the lovely doctors might have given him a little too much morphine towards the end to ease his pain.

My mother’s experience was as bad as it could possibly be as Parkinson’s disease took away just about everything she had ever valued in life. For nearly a year she lay in an expensive nursing home unable to walk or care for herself. She couldn’t read, stitch or cook — all the things she had loved to do. For nearly £2,000 a week she was washed, fed — at least until she could no longer swallow — held my father’s hand, struggled to converse and finally wasted away.

My abiding memory is of her begging me to help her die and me shamefully saying I could do nothing to help. Assisted suicide was illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act, carrying a possible prison sentence of 14 years for the person who assists. It still is.

It was around this time that I met with two of my closest friends and made a pact.

Jenni Murray (pictured) said that after her mother’s experience with Parkinson’s disease, she made a pact with two of her closest friends in her mid-50s

We were in our mid-50s at the time and none of us could bear the thought of ending our lives in such a prolonged and agonising way. We agreed that, were any of us to end up in such a situation, we would help. We didn’t want to put our husbands or children into the position I had been in.

We couldn’t stand having the people we love hear us begging for death, nor could we risk them being accused of a crime with the motive of an inheritance, saving the colossal cost of care and responsibility.

We, as friends, would have nothing to gain. We simply determined that we would find a way of assisting suicide — making the trip to Dignitas in Switzerland for example — and, if necessary, face the consequences of aiding and abetting an illegal act.

My husband was sad that I’d made such an agreement without including him in the trio, but he understood our reasons for wanting to protect our families from any possibility of blame. 

The three of us still talk about our plan, every time a move towards the legalisation of assisted dying is proposed — and rejected. As we’re all now in our 70s, the trust we placed in each other becomes increasingly important in setting our minds at rest that we would not have to suffer unnecessarily.

Getting old can be frightening. At the weekend I saw Anthony Hopkins’s extraordinary performance in The Father.

He doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t remember one of his daughters has died, he doesn’t recognise his other daughter, he imagines people who care for him are people he’s known as family members, he is sometimes violently angry and we see him finally in a care home, begging for his ‘Mummy’. I couldn’t bear to live like that.

I have no desire to find myself in a care home. I’ve seen too many older friends deposited in a room they hated, sitting listlessly in a communal dining room or lined up in chairs with a television they had not chosen to watch blaring away constantly.

Modern medicine may prolong life, but does it bring quality of life? Rarely, I suspect. I certainly don’t want to hear ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’ when my youth was the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley.

 Jenni (pictured) said they agreed that, were any of them to end up in such a situation, they would find a way of assisting suicide

My friends and I have become a little less blasé about the prospect of a prison sentence — we used to joke about writing a book about it if it happened –—but are more determined than ever that the time of our death should be our choice and no one else’s.

Not one of us has any desire to put the burden and expense of care on our husbands and children, nor the misery of total dependence on others.

There is some hope on the horizon. In Scotland a new Assisted Dying Bill, described by the chief executive of Dignity In Dying as a watershed moment, was lodged in Holyrood this week.

If passed, it would require having lived in Scotland for a year, being in the late stages of a terminal disease, being mentally competent and having the approval of two doctors to be given life-ending medication. A similar Private Member’s Bill to cover England and Wales had its first reading in the Lords last month.

Neither goes far enough. According to a survey commissioned by Dignity In Dying, eight in ten Britons support having the right to assisted dying, but, for me, the caveats are too stringent.

The decision and timing should be made only by the individual who is suffering.

It’s my life and it should be my death. No pact with friends should be necessary.

I should be able to have a humane death at home, in the company of my supportive family and friends and at a time of my choosing.

A new reason to be jealous of Flexi Felicity 

The UK-based columnist confessed she has always been jealous of Felicity Kendal, but now has another reason after seeing pictures of her stretching (pictured)

A confession! I’ve always been a wee bit jealous of Felicity Kendal, since every man I’ve ever known has always been a little bit in love with her.

I saw those pictures of her with her leg up to shoulder height as she prepares to dance in Anything Goes at The Barbican and thought, I’m three years younger than her, I can do that. I couldn’t.

Still jealous.

Now we can’t sign a text with a kiss!  

Essex Police have told staff not to exchange texts signed with a kiss or heart emojis as it could be read as sexual harassment.

So that’s me banged up as a sex pest! X 

A couple of weeks ago I expressed the desire for the BBC to stop saying: ‘All episodes can be found on iPlayer’, when you’ve just watched the first one. I couldn’t resist bingeing on Sean Bean’s Time and then had nothing to look forward to the next Sunday night. It seems I’m not alone. 

American streaming services such as Disney+ and Amazon Prime have begun to go back to releasing one episode a week as we’ve all reached ‘peak binge’. How delightfully old-fashioned to go back to ‘delayed gratification’.

Naga’s right, coil torture must stop

Jenni said like the presenter Naga Munchetty (pictured) she too suffered agony by having a contraceptive coil inserted

Bravo to the novelist Caitlin Moran and the presenter Naga Munchetty for highlighting the agony suffered by women having a contraceptive coil inserted. I had it twice. 

First time, pre-childbirth, the kindly nurse held my hand and regretted the pain she suffered as my fingernails left deep scars in her palm.

Second time, after two big babies, not so bad, but would still have welcomed an anaesthetic. This torture must end.

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