‘I’ve saved to go to Dignitas’ - daughter fighting to change law on assisted dying
A Norfolk woman says the pain of watching her mother’s traumatic death has seen her put aside money to die in a Swiss clinic if she faces a similar diagnosis.
Elizabeth Cowley-Gwilliams, from Banham, has spoken out about the death of her mother Muriel, who died aged 83 from ovarian cancer in 2016.
The 63-year-old has shared her experience as assisted dying campaign group Dignity in Dying releases a report saying that full palliative care for everyone with a terminal illness would not be enough to stop painful deaths.
The body campaigns for a law change to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live.
Ms Cowley-Gwilliams said: "When we were told that my mother's tumours had spread and that she only had a few weeks to live, the consultant didn't mince his words.
"He told us exactly what would happen: The tumours would grow and slowly block her bowel, she would feel very sick, she wouldn't be able to take in any food or fluids and then she would die."
She said the news, and the very honest explanation of what her mother's death may look like, began a conversation between Ms Cowley-Gwilliams and her mother about assisted dying.
"We hadn't talked about it in depth but when we left the hospital I said to her 'you're not going through that, I'm going to take you to Dignitas'," she said.
"She said no, as I think she knew that in order to pay it was going to be hard for me. She turned me down on those grounds, but she also said that she couldn't face the journey."
As her mother reached the end of her life, she said it became as traumatic as the doctor had predicted.
"She was bringing up horrendous black bile, so much that one day we had to change her bed eight times in one day. They tried nine different anti-sickness medications but nothing would help," she said.
She said the experience left her "terrified" of facing a similar death, and that she decided to put aside money to travel to Dignitas, a Swiss clinic that helps people die.
"I am absolutely terrified of dying," she said. "My mother had me and I was running around for six weeks trying to sort things out, sort out her care, all the things that didn't happen, people that didn't arrive.
"There's nobody to look after me, and I thought that if I'm going to end up with a diagnosis like that, I'm going to Dignitas."
But she admitted it was an awful position to be in, and that terminally ill, mentally competent people who are suffering should be able to die quickly and peacefully in their own homes.
"That's why I'm fighting so hard," she said. "I'm doing it for everybody else that went through what my mum did, and the people to come that will go through the same thing."
Mrs Cowley-Gwilliams, whose brother also endured a painful death from a brain tumour, had high praise for her mother's palliative care team.
"They were absolutely wonderful," she said. "The palliative care team, the carers, the Marie Curie nurses, they were fantastic, but it wasn't enough."
The debate over assisted dying has remained constant over the last few years, with objectors saying any law could be abused and those in favour saying it is the most humane option.
In July, the House of Commons debated the current law, and in the same month a legal challenge was launched by Phil Newby, a man with motor neurone disease. He aims to secure a full look at the evidence for a change in the law at the High Court.