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Norwich woman’s bid to change the law on assisted suicide

PUBLISHED: 06:30 08 March 2014

Jo Cartwright who has co-authored a new book, Assisted Dying: Who Makes the Final Decision?. Photo: Steve Adams

Jo Cartwright who has co-authored a new book, Assisted Dying: Who Makes the Final Decision?. Photo: Steve Adams

A Norwich woman has told how her experience working as a nursing assistant has inspired her to try to change the law on assisted suicide.

Jo Cartwright has co-written and co-edited the book Assisted Dying: Who Makes the Final Decision? to help sway opinion in advance of a debate on the issue in the House of Lords this summer.

Miss Cartwright, of Quebec Road, said it was while studying for her biomedicine degree at the University of East Anglia that she worked as a nursing assistant and saw firsthand how some terminally ill patients were suffering at the end of their lives.

She said: “There was a young woman with Huntington’s disease and cancer. She took a lot longer to die than anybody expected because she so young.

“The suffering she went through in the last six months was really quite awful and I felt quite helpless as there was not a lot to do to make her feel better.

“She knew what was coming and had the opportunity to find out what it was going to be like, but because of our laws there wasn’t anything she could do and she suffered a really terrible death.

“I thought that there must be something better than this.”

After completing her degreee, Miss Cartwright went on to take a masters degree in human rights and became involved in Dignity in Dying, an organisation which campaigns to change the law to allow the choice of an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, within upfront safeguards.

The 29-year-old now works as its campaign manager and said although it is an emotive issue, it is important to take on board the worries there are around assisted dying.

But she added that in places where assisted dying was legal, for example in Oregon in America where only physician-assisted suicide is legal, the imagined fears had failed to materialise and the changes had improved relations between doctors and patients.

The book aims to raise awareness about the subject of assisted dying, and comprises a collection of stories from individuals who have experienced assisted dying or suicide through their loved ones, as well as debating the legal and theoretical arguments surrounding the Assisted Dying Bill.

It includes commentary from faith leaders and members of the medical community.

The House of Lords is due to hear the Second Reading of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill in the summer.

The bill outlines a new law to allow a safeguarded choice and greater control to terminally ill, mentally competent adults who would like the option to bring their suffering to an end if it becomes unbearable.

Miss Cartwright said: “When the publishers Peter Owen contacted me about writing a book about assisted dying, I was surprised that no one had written at length before about the subject. The topic is something that is very much in the public’s consciousness, and my co-author Lesley Close and I wanted to provide a comprehensive view on the debate.

“Having been brought up in a liberal household, the idea of assisted dying always seemed logical to me. If someone is suffering and in the terminal phase of an illness, then it seems right that they should have the option to choose where and when they would like to end their life. However, it was only when I started working as a palliative health assistant as a student that I came to experience the how many people would like the choice to have an assisted death.

“Through my role at Dignity in Dying, I have had the opportunity to meet many people who have been affected by not having the choice of having an assisted death in the UK. Some have had to travel abroad to clinics such as Dignitas or some have tried to end their lives at home. Many of these individuals’ stories are told in the book, and I hope start to show why the assisted dying bill this summer is so important.”

Do you have a story about assisted dying? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772474 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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