A Matter of Life, Death and Assisted Dying; Would You Help a Loved One to Die? Campaigners Have Recently Visited Wales to Drum Up Support for Euthanasia. but Opponents Says It's a Dangerous Proposition. Abbie Wightwick Investigates

Article excerpt

WHEN Roy Bennett's 47-year-old son told him he wanted to end his suffering from Motor Neurone Disease he was devastated, but he understood.

He says the disease had all but destroyed son Paul's life and worse was to come.

Paul Bennett, who worked at the DVLA in Swansea and had a wife and son of his own, had been a keen sportsman.

Nicknamed "Paul the Ball" as a child, he played rugby for Swansea School Boys and later for Vardre and Morriston RFC.

All this was brought to a halt by MND which, by the end, had confined him to a wheelchair, unable to swallow unaided, speak audibly or move.

At the time of his death Paul, who lived in a specially adapted bungalow in Swansea with wife Michelle and son Jack, then 10, needed round the clock care, Roy recalls.

When Paul told his parents Roy and Olive he wanted to die they talked it through at their Swansea home and agreed to accompany him to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland where assisted suicide is legal.

But back in the UK, where assisted suicide is illegal, Paul knew his family might face prosecution and up to 14 years in jail if they were found to be helping him.

So he made arrangements himself but asked if they'd accompany him.

Roy, a retired plasterer, recalls the day in January 2006 when Paul told him he wanted to die.

"He'd had MND for five years, it's a very rapid disease and he knew what was coming," Roy, 74, explains.

"He was going to lose his speech and sight and be immobile.

"He spoke to us about it and I said, 'Boy, you have given it a lot of thought'. We supported him."

Choking back tears Roy adds: "I sat alongside and watched him die.

"You relive it every day. It was four years at the start of May and every day is like the last one. It's there with you forever."

But he says death brought an end to Paul's suffering.

"Before he went he had to be fed with a tube into his tummy. He couldn't swallow or speak.

"He had to have a siphon to clear his throat and 24-hour care.

"Mentally, he was as sharp as ever so imagine having to live with that 24 hours a day."

Roy, Olive, Michelle, Paul's uncle and a family friend flew to Switzerland in May 2006.

Roy recalls the three-day trip with searing clarity.

"We were all there when he died. The nearest we could get was 10ft from him, so that there was no way anyone could say we assisted him, and everything was videoed," he explains.

Roy recalls Paul lying on the bed and a machine administering a fatal dose of barbiturates.

"The doctor said, 'Paul, if you want to change your mind you can put on your clothes and go home. It's up to you' but he said, 'No. I want to finish it all'," Roy adds, his voice cracked with emotion.

"As much as we were sorry to say goodbye and leave, the dignity that ended it was unbelievable.

"It gave us the peace of mind to come home and say 'so long boy, you're not suffering any more'.

"Had it not been the right thing I would have slung him over my shoulder and carried him home.

"His last words were, 'I love you all. Goodbye. When it's all over go and have a good drink for me'."

Roy breaks down in tears as he remembers the ordeal but says he wants to talk about it to help get the law changed.

He is angry the family had to go abroad and then spend months fearing prosecution. Although the group were interviewed by police in September 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was no public interest in pursuing action against them.

Paul's story is not unique. More than 115 Britons have ended their lives at Dignitas since it opened 12 years ago.

Clients pay pounds 6,000 for a lethal dose of barbiturates at the clinic set up by lawyer Ludwig Minelli.

So far no one accompanying them from the UK has been prosecuted although they could be under the 1961 Suicide Act which states it's a crime to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another. …