A MOTHER who helped her son to die has told her heart-breaking story in a new book tackling the taboos surrounding assisted suicide.
Heather Pratten, 76, from Rayleigh, helped her son Nigel, who suffered from Huntington’s disease, commit suicide at home in 2000.
Her story now forms part of a book called Assisted Dying: Who Makes the Final Decision?
Heather, who is patron of the Dignity in Dying organisation, said: “He’d had Huntington’s for about eight years. His walking was going, his talking was beginning to go, and he knew he’d end up having everything done for him, and that wasn’t him.
“He knew what was happening to him and he hated it. He loved to draw, so when he couldn’t do that, it was a big thing for him.
“He was so independent there was no way anyone would look after him, so when it came to the stage when he had to go into a home, that was the last straw.”
Heather helped Nigel die on his 42nd birthday at his flat in Plaistow, East London.
She added: “After two years talking about it with me, his friends got him some heroin and I thought that would be the best way.
“I sang happy birthday to him and made him open his cards, but he wasn’t really interested. He said, ‘Don’t worry about that, I’ve got what I want’.
“After he took the heroin, we lay down and talked about his life, and we both fell asleep. I woke up about four hours later and I could see he was almost dead. I pulled up the pillow and gently put it over his head.
“He’d told me earlier in the day if he left the flat alive he’d never speak to me again, and I said, ‘well, either way, you’ll never speak to me again’ and we both laughed. ”
Heather was charged with murder, later reduced to aiding and abetting suicide, after a post mortem revealed he was so close to death her actions had not made any difference.
Heather was given a year’s conditional discharge after the judge sympathised she was trying to help her son escape from an incurable condition and lessen his pain.
The book details stories from people whose loved ones have suffered from terminal illnesses or incurable conditions, and came to the decision to end their lives, rather than face further pain or treatment.
The book has been co-authored by Lesley Close and Jo Cartwright, who are also members of Dignity in Dying, the organisation spearheading the debate of assisted dying becoming legal in the UK.
She added: “Lesley spent the day with me and we talked through it. It was difficult, and talking about it stirs up emotions, but I have no regrets about Nigel – I’m certain I did the right thing.”
“Until people hear real, personal experiences, it can be difficult to imagine yourself in that position.”
This summer, the House of Lords is due to give a second reading to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. The Bill outlines a new law to allow a choice to terminally ill, mentallycompetent adults who want to bring their suffering to an end if it becomes unbearable, after meeting strict legal safeguards.
Heather said: “We’re falling behind in this country. People who are suffering should be able to choose the time and place of their death. Palliative care isn’t enough – you should be able to ask for it, if that’s what you want.
“I know there are a lot of religious people who don’t agree with it, but as it says in the book, suffering isn’t sacred, and pain isn’t holy. I don’t think anyone’s got the right to tell me I should suffer because of their beliefs.”