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June 18, 2023

A Tale of Terror & a Warning?

Exit Member, Louise Martin, tells of the indignity she suffered at the hands of her local police  …

About ten years ago, my local Unitarians were one of the first groups to join UK-wide Unitarian support for an Early Day Motion which promoted Assisted Dying.

The discussion between chapel society members prompted me to start exploring the situation more fully, and has led to my membership of Exit International, and a keen interest in the whole topic ever since.

Dignitas, in Switzerland, has a very mixed reputation both in fact and fiction.

For many it is the only possibility when living becomes too painful in every respect.

There have been several efforts to get the law changed, mostly on lines similar to the legal situation in Origin State in America.

There, doctors can leave patients, who have a limited life expectancy, with drugs that will result in death.  Barely 30% of those with this ‘insurance’ use the medication provided for this purpose.

The Hippocratic Oath in the modern version states there is a responsibility on doctors to ‘avoid the twin traps of over treatment and therapeutic nihilism…. Above all, I must not play at God’.

This leaves me wondering if good intentions result in a medical practitioner feeling compelled to continue to seek a cure.  Surely quality is always better than quantity?

My father was an old-fashioned GP working in the middle of the 20th century.  He believed everyone should have the right ‘to die on their own lace pillow’.

His youngest partner saw to it that this was my mother’s death.  But things change.  Death at home is no longer the norm.

It is as if we have made death something to be denied and hidden away on side wards of hospitals and hospices.

The cost to the NHS of the average last six weeks of a life is now more than the cost of all the previous years’ of life put together.   This can’t be right.

After researching Exit’s Peaceful Pill Handbook, I chose a supplier of Nembutal, the drug of choice, and ordered some, paying by Western Union.

Some months later a parcel arrived from Mexico, handed to me by our regular postie.  Inside was a small bottle which I put in a plastic mug in the fridge.

Several months later, a day or two after returning from a visit to my family ‘down under’, I was arrested for ‘possession of illegal drugs’.  The experience was horrific.

At one stage there were seven police officers in my house, two searching for more drugs, which was stupid as I had already given the little bottle to the arresting policewoman.

I was put into a van behind a cage and driven to a nearby town.  The custody sergeant announced he would treat me like any other drug smuggler.

He proceeded to take my details, lock me up in a cell, having removed my mobile but leaving me my watch and giving me an old magazine to read.

I gave him the number of the good friend with whom I had been having lunch that day, because I thought she would be able to cope with whatever happened next.

When he rang her, introduced himself, explaining I had been arrested, her astonishment caused her to ask, ‘Is this a joke?’.   ‘No, madam, certainly not’ was the reply.

She and her husband could not believe what they had heard and reckoned I must have hit someone driving home that afternoon.

I was interviewed by a plain clothes woman officer who said the information that I had this drug came via Interpol.  The Mexican seller had obviously been arrested.

I was later interviewed by someone working, who offered me professional support.  She was being funded through a mental health charity to try to help drug users.

Eventually, after about four hours I was released on bail, allowed to call a taxi and be driven home.

Two days later I was with an experienced solicitor, entirely sympathetic to the cause of Exit, who took me through the whole event, prepared a defence against my being taken to court and charged me quite a lot of money.

The police withdrew the case a week before the hearing, perhaps realising they had over-re-acted.  They promised to destroy all their notes.  I am not sure if I believe them.

Meanwhile, the law has tightened on other products that formerly could be taken to induce death and are now no longer available.

Better training for doctors might help many of us live our dying more happily.  Medics, who do not undertake a palliative care placement, spend barely twelve hours of their five-year training looking at care around death, yet every one of their patients will die sooner or later.

Fifteen years ago, I was given a diagnosis with a life expectancy of about six years.  It was said very abruptly without much sensitivity.

As it has turned out, it was wrong.  As it also evolved, I am lucky in my sources of support, to whom I owe much gratitude as I faced this news.

Years ago, visiting a friend in her nineties she said, ‘I have been to this party before and I’m ready to leave.’

With luck, I shall go while I am still enjoying some quality of life, independence and able to do the things I want to do.   Good/God willing.