The First Time, She Called An Ambulance For Her Son. The Second Time, She Used A Pillow.

Darcie Conway Curated by

People from around the world are asking why they don't have a choice in one of the most pivotal events of their lives.

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Heather Pratten: I knew that for aiding and abetting a suicide, you could receive 14 years in prison. That didn't matter to me at the time. My son's need was so great. And I was the only one he could ask to help. And he knew that I would not leave him.

In our family, Huntington's disease seems to start at around the early '30s. So as my children were coming up to 30, they were obviously worrying about it. And I used to say to Nigel, "How do you feel now that you're coming up to 30?" and he would always shrug his shoulders and say, "You don't need to worry about me, I'm fine." He watched his aunt deteriorate. He just knew it wasn't for him.

He was always out and about with his friends. We saw him at Christmas and birthdays. And he would always send us a hand-drawn birthday or Christmas card because he loved to draw. And then one day, I received a shop-bought card. And I just thought, "He can't draw anymore." I could see that his walking was beginning to become a little bit funny. And he was having a few problems. But he always denied that there was anything wrong with him. And then he said, "I'm going up to Scotland to see my friend, so don't contact me." Well, I kept phoning. And then after about six weeks, the phone was answered and he just said, "Help me." We went up there and when he opened the door, he'd been trying to starve himself to death. But drinking vodka to keep himself unconscious. I called an ambulance and he was furious. And later on, he said to me, "If you ever do that again, I'll never speak to you."

He was quite open with all his friends and family that he wanted to die. The best option for him would have been to have proper medical help. He could never have sat on a plane and gone to Dignitas at that point in time. That wasn't an option. He had told the hospital that he wanted to die. But there was nothing of assistance that we could have got.

I was taking him out for his birthday and he said, "I want to go back to my flat. My friends have got me what I want." And he produced this syringe and heroin. Because his movements were so bad, he couldn't inject it into himself. He kept dropping the syringe. And in the end, he just swallowed it all. He hugged me and said he loved me. And we just laid down and we talked about his life, his friends. And we just both went to sleep. And then when I woke up, I knew that he didn't have very long to live. But at the same time, I couldn't stand it any longer. And so I just picked up the pillow and put it over his face. I don't know how long. It was just... it just had to end. And when I lifted it off, he didn't breathe anymore.

To have someone you love who really, really wants to die, it's not good. The actual inquest said that he was so close to death that what I did made no difference. He would have died very shortly anyway. I was on bail on a charge of murder. This went on for a few months. And eventually they dropped it to aiding and abetting a suicide, which I pleaded guilty to because that was what I did, really. When it came to the sentencing, I did feel that perhaps they would stick me in prison. Fortunately for me, that never happened. And I then became a member of Dignity in Dying.

I think up until now, it's been a subject that no one's wanted to talk about. Doctors haven't wanted to talk about it, nurses haven't wanted to talk about it. We've got to the state where life can be prolonged, but sometimes is there a time when it's not worth prolonging? And for these few people that are brave enough to say, "I don't want to suffer any longer," there should be enough safeguards in place to make sure that it is a proper decision. And I would like to see a change in the law. Dignity in Dying supports the people that are faced with this decision and also I think it's opened up the debate to the public. People are more ready to talk about it and doctors and nurses are beginning to understand that perhaps life at all costs is not the best thing.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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Much appreciation to Heather Pratten for sharing her personal story with us with the Campaign for Dignity in Dying. You can follow them on Twitter.

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