St Albans nurse backs change in laws on assisted dying

Kate Wellesley’s 83-year-old mum Vicky took her own life in 2018 after a terminal metastatic cancer diagnosis

Kate Wellesley’s 83-year-old mum Vicky took her own life in 2018 after a terminal metastatic cancer diagnosis. - Credit: Kate Wellesley

A St Albans nurse whose terminally ill mum took her own life is backing legalisation allowing for assisted dying.

Kate Wellesley’s 83-year-old mum Vicky took her own life in 2018 after a terminal metastatic cancer diagnosis. Vicky had lived with breast cancer for 17 years, which later spread to her bones.

Vicky knew a death from bone cancer was a very painful way to die, and had planned to die peacefully. She researched travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal, but she was too ill to travel.

Following her death, Kate and her brother Adam were questioned by police after evidence was found that they had researched Dignitas at their mum’s request – under the 1961 Suicide Act, anyone in England and Wales who helps another person take their own life could face a maximum jail term of 14 years.

Katie said: “All mum wanted was to die peacefully and with dignity, and she took the only action still available to her. Assisted dying isn’t a choice between living or dying because cancer had already made that choice for our mum.

“I felt trapped in wanting my mum to be out of pain. I was terrified that I could lose my nursing license when we were questioned by police, and the ordeal only added to the heartache I was already feeling after losing my mum.

“If we had more compassionate assisted dying laws in the UK, mum would not have ended her own life, alone, earlier than she wanted and her children would not have been investigated by the police at one of the saddest moments of their lives.

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“My brother and I feel robbed of extra time we could have had with her.”

Kate has now contributed to a new report from campaign group Dignity in Dying entitled Last Resort: The hidden truth about how dying people take their own lives in the UK.

It estimates that under the ban on assisted dying up to 650 dying citizens take their own lives every year, with up to 6,500 attempting to do so. This is in addition to 50 Brits a year who travel to Switzerland for an assisted death and 17 a day who suffer in pain as they die despite palliative care.

Polling released as part of the report reveals that seven in 10 Brits believe there is a distinction between assisted dying and suicide, and seven in 10 feel suicide prevention measures should not stop terminally ill people seeking assisted death.

An Assisted Dying Bill brought by Dignity in Dying’s chair, crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, proposes that terminally ill, mentally competent adults who have been given six months or less to live should have the choice of a safe, legal assisted death, subject to strict safeguards.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Denied the safe, legal choice they want in this country – with Dignitas only open to those with the funds or strength to travel – hundreds of terminally ill people every year are resorting to taking their own lives in violent and extreme ways, leaving untold devastation for loved ones, local communities and first responders.

“Meanwhile, in Westminster opponents of Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill – which the British public is united in support of – have tabled nearly 200 amendments. The majority are designed not to protect dying people but to scaremonger, polarise and run down the clock.

"They betray the underhanded motivations of a hardline minority of opponents: not to improve the Bill but instead to wreck it by any means.

“This Bill represents a safer, fairer, more compassionate response to the desire of many terminally ill citizens for greater choice at the end of their lives, providing comfort and helping to prevent the horrific deaths. We need a clear process in Westminster reforming the outdated status quo, with proper time set aside for this crucial debate.”