‘We wouldn’t let animals die in misery. Why should humans?’: Susan Hampshire on why dying must be a choice

‘we wouldn’t let animals die in misery. why should humans?’: susan hampshire on why dying must be a choice

Susan Hampshire, 87: ‘Age and level of illness need to be part of the criteria.’ Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones/The Guardian

I’ve been campaigning and raising money for assisted dying for decades, but now we have an icon like Esther Rantzen talking about it, suddenly the game has changed. My mother died in 1964 and some time after that I decided to join the Euthanasia Society, which is now called Dignity in Dying. When I looked after my mother-in-law, she was begging to get off the planet but nobody would help her. After that there was my husband Eddie [Kulukundis, theatre and sports philanthropist] who had dementia. He was such a gentle man, a pleasure to look after for 14 years. But 18 months before he met his maker, he said in an aggressive way, which was quite unusual for Eddie, “I just want to die.”

I cared for my two sisters, both of whom lived well until they were 94. But the last five weeks of my sister Anne’s life was horrendous because of how much agony she was in. Every few minutes she was saying, “Please help me. Why can’t they help me to go now? I’m not going to get any better. I have no future. I will never move again. Please.”

I believe dying should be a choice that the individual makes. It’s what my family wanted and what I want when I go. We wouldn’t let animals die in that misery. Why should humans face the same?

Those with enough money are able to go to Switzerland. People like my sister struggle on

They’ve got it working perfectly well in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and in some states in America, and in other countries. Why are we so backwards here that we can’t find a system that also makes it safe? Some may be against it for religious reasons, in which case I completely understand. But there will be so many guidelines and safeguards we would have to follow.

Age and level of illness need to be part of the criteria. I don’t believe in blanket euthanasia. I’m talking about people in the last five or six weeks of their life, when they are in agony. My sister Jane was certainly in pain. She did a brutal thing and refused to eat. She took death into her own hands, when everybody could have been with her at the time, comforting her, setting her up on the journey.

What is happening is that those with enough money are able to go to Switzerland, or people, like my sister, struggle on and perhaps in the middle of the night move to the next world alone. I hope that this country can exercise a bit of compassion.

As told to Harriet Gibsone

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