Dig­ni­tas’s ques­tion to Brit suf­ferer Hus­band ‘could have lived longer’

Daily Mirror - - NEWS - BY AMY-CLARE MARTIN amy­[email protected]­ @AmyClareMartin

FLY­ING home af­ter vis­it­ing Zurich with her fam­ily, Sara Fen­ton was re­turn­ing with­out her hus­band Keith by her side.

She had taken him to Dig­ni­tas clinic, where he drank a life-end­ing med­i­ca­tion pre­scribed to him by doc­tors.

They had asked him on his ar­rival: “Keith, do you want to die to­day?”

Sara, 56, claims it was the most “peace­ful and dig­ni­fied” way for her hus­band, who had Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, to end his life.

But she be­lieves that if laws were dif­fer­ent here, Keith could still be alive to­day.

The PA said: “If as­sisted sui­cide had been avail­able in this coun­try, he would still be here be­cause he wouldn’t have had to go so early.”

Sara is back­ing cam­paigner Noel Con­way, who wants ter­mi­nally ill peo­ple to be given the right to die on their own terms at home.

Speak­ing for the first time about her fam­ily’s trau­matic trip to Switzer­land in 2017, she told how she be­lieves fear drives many peo­ple to end their lives sooner than they would like.

Sara said: “Peo­ple are fright­ened of ei­ther be­com­ing too ill to travel or, also in Keith’s case – be­cause his ill­ness is neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive – he had to have the men­tal ca­pac­ity to say he wanted to go to Dig­ni­tas.

“We had to find a psy­chi­a­trist to say he had it, then have an­other as­sess­ment the week be­fore. He was so wor­ried; what if he woke up to­mor­row and didn’t have the men­tal ca­pac­ity?

“Keith would have lived quite hap­pily for an­other few years just know­ing he’d got the op­tion in this coun­try. That’s the sad­dest part.

“We prob­a­bly would have had last Christ­mas to­gether and prob­a­bly this Christ­mas as well. It’s just sad that peo­ple can’t have that chance in this day and age.” Mil­i­tary vet­eran Keith had watched his fa­ther, sis­ter and a brother lose their lives to Hunt­ing­ton’s when he was di­ag­nosed with the cruel dis­ease in 2008, aged 50.

He was de­ter­mined not to face the same end, be­com­ing trapped in his fail­ing body.

Sara said: “He was in the Army for 35 years and used to be in con­trol of ev­ery­thing. He felt he was grad­u­ally los­ing con­trol of his life.

“He would fall over reg­u­larly and choke on his food. He couldn’t do nor­mal things, like make a cup of tea. It scared him.

“In Jan­uary 2017 he started say­ing he wanted to go to Dig­ni­tas, but I tried to ig­nore it. I just said, ‘It’s fine, we will man­age to­gether’. Then he tried to take an over­dose and I re­alised how self­ish I had been.

“I thought, ‘I have got to help him’. I couldn’t bear to see him suf­fer any more. He didn’t want to be here any more. He thought he was go­ing to have the same end he had seen his brother, sis­ter and fa­ther go through. He couldn’t bear the thought of be­ing trapped in his body.”

The fam­ily then set about find­ing a way to get Keith to Switzer­land, where he could end his life on his own terms.

The day he got the green light from Dig­ni­tas, Keith, a for­mer map-print­ing ex­pert with the Royal En­gi­neers, felt back in con­trol.

Sara said: “He changed com­pletely. All of a sud­den he was back to his old self. He wanted to see friends again and go on day trips.

“It com­pletely changed him. He started liv­ing again.” But plans had to be car­ried out “cloak and dag­ger”, as they feared pros­e­cu­tion or some­one try­ing to block the trip,

The cou­ple and their chil­dren Char­lotte, 23, and Ed­ward, 26, trav­elled to Switzer­land from Hunger­ford, Berks, telling doc­tors and car­ers they were go­ing on a two-week hol­i­day. They made won­der­ful fi­nal mem­o­ries be­fore ar­riv­ing


at the clinic. The last photo of Keith, taken 40 min­utes be­fore his death, shows him smil­ing over a slice of cake at a cafe near Dig­ni­tas.

He died at the clinic on Novem­ber 30, 2017, aged 59. Sara main­tains it was peace­ful and happy, and the “to­tal op­po­site” of what he would have faced had na­ture taken its course.

But she vowed to Keith in his fi­nal hours that she would fight for law change in Bri­tain to spare other fam­i­lies trav­el­ling abroad in se­cret.

The trip cost them £13,000, a sum many could not af­ford. Sara added: “It would have been lovely if we could have been more open and been able to say good­bye to more peo­ple.

“He was even fright­ened of telling his brother, who is in the po­lice. The fact you can face 14 years for help­ing some­body to go is ridicu­lous.

“We didn’t know if there were go­ing to be po­lice wait­ing for us at the air­port. I ex­pected a knock on the door, but no one ever came.”

Sara be­came area co-or­di­na­tor for Dig­nity in Dy­ing’s West Berk­shire group, and ded­i­cates her spare time to pro­mot­ing a law change.

One Bri­ton trav­els abroad to die ev­ery eight days on av­er­age, fig­ures show.

Yet in 2015 Par­lia­ment voted over­whelm­ingly against an as­sisted dy­ing bill, by 330 to 118.

Leg­is­la­tion which could have made Guernsey the first place in the British Isles to al­low it was re­jected last sum­mer.

Op­po­nents of as­sisted sui­cide say it could lead to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple feel­ing pres­sured to end their life out of fear of be­ing a bur­den.

But Sara be­lieves it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore the UK catches up with Switzer­land, Canada and US states in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton.

She added: “As soon as the law changes, I will raise a glass to Keith and say, ‘You did it’.”

He was so wor­ried; what if he woke up to­mor­row and didn’t have the men­tal ca­pac­ity?

FAM­ILY With chil­dren Ed­ward and Char­lotte

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