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Former police sergeant brands criminalising relatives in assisted dying cases as 'inhumane and lacking compassion'

PUBLISHED: 17:01 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:07 14 August 2019

Retired police sergeant and former county councillor Graham Ashworth. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Retired police sergeant and former county councillor Graham Ashworth. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Geraldine Scott

A former Norfolk police sergeant has hit out at how relatives of those who take their lives to escape terminal illness are criminalised.

Graham Ashworth served with Norfolk Constabulary for 30 years, and later became a county councillor.

Now the 82-year-old has turned to campaigning with group Dignity in Dying, who want to see the law changed so terminally ill people can have more say over how they die.

Mr Ashworth, who lives in Shouldham, said: "I'm behind everything the campaign want to do, and I would actually like to see it go further. I thought back to what I dealt with in the police force, many many suicides I dealt with."

Mr Ashworth said while the majority had been of those who were mentally ill, there were stark occasions he can remember where the person had clearly been looking for a way to prevent their illness getting worse.

He said: "The one I remember most clearly was a dear old gentleman who had terminal cancer, and his family were suffering with him.

"They were all going through the trauma of seeing him get worse and they couldn't do anything about it. He arranged for a friend to take them to Norwich for the day and said he didn't feel well enough and would stay behind."

While his family were out, the man shot himself.

Mr Ashworth said: "It seems to me he could have been saved that if we had a compassionate method of helping people out of this life when they feel their time has come.

"In that case it was quite obvious - he had left a note - he could see the suffering his family endured, he was suffering, and whatever pain he was in was exacerbated."

And Mr Ashworth, a father-of-two, grandfather-of-two, and who was about to become a great grandfather, said it would be to alleviate the suffering both of the person who was ill but also of the family who watch them die.

Although he accepted there would need to be controls and checks in place, he said: "The people in their right mind, they should be allowed to [take their own lives] and allowed to do it with dignity.

"To criminalise anyone who helps anyone in that state is inhumane and lacks compassion. I feel so strongly for those who have to go to the law and try and get the law changed, when if the law makers had any sense at all they would see the need for this kind of a change."

Mr Ashworth said during his career laws around homosexuality and capital punishment were liberalised.

When he first joined, he spoke out during his induction to say he did not see why homosexuality was an offence, and said he was always against capital punishment.

He said: "We've changed the law about homosexuality, and I was delighted, and we've changed our laws to make a more liberal society, so why can't we get this one right?"

Mr Ashworth said out of an estimated 300 suicides he dealt with during his police career, only around four of five would have concerned someone who was terminally ill.

But he said: "That's a significant percentage because of the circumstances, they did it because they were suffering and they did not want their nearest and dearest to suffer."

Dignity in Dying supports a law change which would allow terminally ill people, with six months or less to live, the option to control their death.

They do not support euthanasia, which they say would take control away from the individual.

Dignity in Dying Norfolk will be at the Aylsham Show on August 26. Or anyone wanting more information can join the Dignity in Dying Norfolk Facebook group.

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