Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

I helped my mother take her own life

Daughter of terminally ill woman’s terrible dilemma

A daughter has told how she had no choice but to help her terminally ill mother starve to death.

Now Co Down woman Jenny Grainger is calling for a change in the law on assisted suicide in the UK to allow people to choose how to end their lives.

Her mother, 75-year-old Barbara Grainger, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2008. She wanted to avoid the indignity of having a healthy mind stuck in a useless body and took the drastic step of denying herself food and water.

A lifelong supporter of euthanasia, Barbara had hoped for a quick and pain-free death by tablet in Switzerland, the only country where assisted suicide is legal.

But the disease progressed so rapidly that she lost her ability to swallow before her family could finalise arrangements.

Instead, Barbara opted for voluntary refusal of food and fluids — known as VRFF — as the only option open to her in the UK to end her own life.

Her daughter Jenny said: “She was determined not to lose her dignity and she asked that we support her in refusing food and she told the doctors that she did not want a food tube inserted into her to keep her alive.”

In what proved to be a painful, slow death she accepted only two tablespoons of water a day for the next 24 days before her heart finally stopped.

Her family agreed to her wishes and nursed her as she endured the horrific effects of dehydration and starvation.

Her daughter has revealed the tragic details of her mum’s death and how her family could only stand by helplessly as she begged them many times to end her suffering.

Jenny has told her mother’s story to call for a change in the law on assisted suicide.

She said: “Dad’s best friend had died from MND the year before so mum knew exactly what lay ahead for her.

“She didn’t want the indignity of getting to the stage of being what she called a vegetable, unable to talk, eat or move and needing someone else to toilet her.”

Jenny described her mum as a strong-willed woman who wanted her story to be told to highlight what she believed was a cruel law.

“Mum said you wouldn’t put a dog through it.

“She said if an animal was terminally ill and suffering you would put it to sleep, and yet no one could legally act to end her suffering,” she said. “No one should have to go through it; there should be the option for people to choose how to die.”

Her comments came after locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson died a week after losing his legal bid to end his life with a doctor's help.

Faced with the same prognosis, Barbara Grainger acted to save herself from the torture of being trapped in a useless body by taking her own life in the only way the law would allow her.

MND is a terminal condition which attacks the nerves, slowly shutting down the body’s physical functions, while leaving the mind alert.

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