Katie Engelhart described the courageous 82-year-old Avril Henry, who lived alone, had no close family, was wracked by multiple but untreatable problems so common in elderly people, and had had enough of her previously full life (‘My body is unserviceable and well past its sell-by date’: the last days of Avril Henry, 9 March). She was, she said, “dying of everything and of nothing in particular”. And yet, fully mentally competent, she was not able to have the assisted death she earnestly and logically craved. She had to do it herself, but not before the police, accompanied by a social worker, a doctor and a psychiatrist, had broken down her front door in their unsuccessful search for the illegally-imported poison she later used.
This cannot be right in a civilised country. A change in the law to allow assisted dying must surely come. A majority of the UK population want it to. We have a chance to realise this in the new Scottish parliament, for which we will be voting in May.
Prof Charles Warlow
• How promising that the increasingly impossible goal of achieving a natural death has been so bravely tackled in Katie Engelhart’s piece.
Several years ago when consulting a professor on a possible hernia repair, I was blithely informed that the body in question was no longer functioning as it should and that I had “lived too long”. No solution to this was offered. At the time (then in my early 70s) I felt rather indignant.
However, with increasing age and decrepitude, I have had to recognise the truth in his statement and with that comes a growing concern that the final decision does not rest with the individual, as it should, but with the medical profession. Why indeed should we be forced to suffer needlessly? A change in the law is long overdue. A really suitable subject for a referendum, I think.
New Malden, London
• Thank you for your excellent article on old age suicide, which should help to promote an understanding of the need for people coming to the end of their lives to be able to choose when they wish to die. But can I fill in a gap in the information you gave? The article talked about the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (Soars), but didn’t say that it is now called My Death My Decision (MDMD). As part of the Assisted Dying Coalition, it is now campaigning strongly for an assisted dying law that is not limited to terminally ill people.
This should help to alleviate the very distressing situations in which people like Avril find themselves, and mean that they no longer have to go to such extraordinary lengths, on their own, to try and choose the time and manner of their death.
• The law is designated for all of us at all times, not to serve the requirements of individuals, whatever their difficulties. The laws against killing protect the healthy majority; the removal of this law could put most elderly, disabled, depressed or simply deluded people under pressure to evaluate the efficacy of their lives, while not wanting to be a burden to their carers or loved ones.
It is no coincidence that regular scrutiny of this fundamental, protective law has arisen in the era of state-of-the-art economic efficiency.
Dr Kevin Bannon
• In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org