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Widow Explains Why Assisted Suicide Can Be Harder on the Family Than Natural Death

2 ½ min

The journalist wife of a Sky News journalist has written a memoir chronicling her reaction to her husband’s one-way trip to a Swiss suicide clinic. Deborah Binner is bitterly critical of the decision her spouse Simon made to seek assisted suicide after being stricken with a fast-moving form of motor neurone disease.

She writes from an unusual perspective in her book Yet Here I Am, because she had nursed her 18-year-old daughter Chloë who died of cancer three years earlier. She observed that the two deaths were very different. After her daughter’s death, she found that:

“... a certain closure slowly arose in me; I knew I had left no stone unturned in an almighty battle to save her. And in the end, her death was soft, gentle, supported and at home. When she lay dying, I sat with her in my arms, stroking her little head with tiny tufts of hair.

“She told me she was happy. Unbelievably, for that moment, I was happy too. I touched on love at its very deepest level.

But her husband’s passing was quite different.

In contrast, Simon’s death feels unresolved. To me it felt angry, rejecting and abrupt. It felt a lot like a suicide. I think he genuinely thought that taking his life was courageous and that it would save us a lot of heartache seeing him spiral into full disability.

“I know that his intentions were entirely pure. But surely it is equally brave to live with an illness, a disability, to embrace vulnerability and to accept that none of us really has that much control.”

Deborah reluctantly accompanied her husband to the Swiss Eternal Spirit clinic in Basle in 2016 – along with a BBC film crew which made a documentary, How to Die: Simon’s Choice.

“While Simon’s turmoil had ended, in some ways mine was just beginning. I didn’t want Simon to suffer, but I didn’t want him to die, either. Watching him plan his own death, while I still wanted more time, was overwhelmingly traumatic.”

“My head understands the intellectual arguments and I find it hard to disagree with them. But my heart still says no. Should we not be kinder, more patient, more respectful of human life?

“Isn’t how we support the dying so central to who we are as human beings? And there’s a part of me that believes it’s better, if a person has the best possible care, to let nature take its course. Personally, I am absolutely fuming that my husband left me to fend in this world alone. That was not the deal.”

As a result of her experience, she is not an advocate for assisted dying. “I worry deeply about how people who are ill can lose the sense of mattering to other people. If there were the option of ending it all relatively simply, would they feel pressure to opt for that rather than become a ‘nuisance’?”


This article has been republished from MercatorNet under a Creative Commons license.   

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a B.A. at Harvard University in the U.S. where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a Ph.D. on an obscure corner of Australian literature. Currently he is the editor of BioEdge, a newsletter about bioethics, and MercatorNet. He also writes a bioethics column for Australasian Science.

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I can understand your difficulty with your husband's decision, but it's not the law that's wrong; it's your husband's early decision. It doesn't sound like he waited very long or was suffering very much yet when he ended it. So I might question whether he thought enough about the ones left behind to end it that early. But it was his choice and I'm glad people who are suffering a great deal can have the freedom to end their suffering. It is harder to assist someone. It's easier when a dog dies naturally than when I'm the one who took responsibility for it and had to choose. I have to live with that. If they (my pets) had died naturally I would have had time to process it and not be directly responsible. It's never easy either way. Death is never easy. Ultimately, it's better that you have some discomfort with it rather than your husband to have suffered longer for your sake. Grief can make us more narcissistic for a time. I hope you'll come to feel more peace. I still feel a tiny bit of guilt and uncertainty about all the animals I've had put down. Even though I did it with soul-searching agony and with the utmost concern for them. I guess it's the human condition and what's better for our departed is not better or easier for us.