‘Suicide was her only way out’ - Suffolk man reveals why he made the decision to help his wife die

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon, 83, has spoken of his heartbreaking decision to help his wife take her own life ahead of a debate in Parliament today on assisted dying.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

“I could see no way forward. I was horrified at the thought of not doing anything,” said Mr Sheldon, of Worlingworth,

Elizabeth Sheldon was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a hereditary degenerative disease which leads to a loss of muscle co-ordination, mental decline and behavioural changes, in the late 1970s.

Mrs Sheldon’s job as a district nurse meant she had witnessed first hand the effects of Huntington’s disease.

Mr Sheldon, a retired water inspector, described the years that followed her diagnosis as a “living nightmare”, and admitted that he had first refused his wife’s requests for help in stockpiling drugs in preparation for her to end her life.

Elizabeth Sheldon in South Africa in 1979

Elizabeth Sheldon in South Africa in 1979


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“I stopped her from doing that. I was appalled,” he said. “But after two more years I could see that suicide was her only way out. Had I have been in her position I would have wanted the same thing. It was her wish.”

And so, once they had collected enough drugs, Mr Sheldon left their home in Ruislip, north-west London, for a night to allow Elizabeth to take her own life.

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He returned to find her alive and in pain and she was rushed to hospital.

“They were going to try to revive her so I stood over her like a tiger,” he said. “That would only bring her back to this nightmare following her magnificent courage. It was quite an emotional situation.

“It took her four days to die. I lost a stone in weight in those four days.”

Mr Sheldon now hopes to see the law into assisted dying changed, with the Assisted Dying Bill 2015 going before the House of Commons today.

He said: “It’s really affected my life. Much of what I do is collared by it. That’s what led me to be some sort of spokesperson for dignity in dying and assisted dying.

“She was a very brave, resolute person. She was so brave.

“Thankfully we didn’t have children. It would be an absolutely nightmare to watch my children knowing that every one of them had a 50% certainty of having this disease.”

Mrs Sheldon died in 1982, aged just 51. The couple had been married for 23 years.

Mr Sheldon said: “If your condition is painful and degrading that’s very real. If you know there’s no cure you are doing to die and you are in pain or in a degrading situation then there’s no point in hoping for something that does not exist. With a neurological disease you can live on and on and on.

“It’s important that the law is changed to take account of people with neurological diseases. I want to feel that at least it doesn’t have to go on when people don’t want to go on.

“It’s a question of individual choice. We are talking about people who feel life is intolerable.”

Mr Sheldon first spoke out on his decision to help his wife commit suicide on BBC TV programme Newsnight in 2010 and was arrested some weeks later on suspicion of aiding or abetting a suicide. He remained on police bail for over a year before the case against him was dropped.

If approved, the Assited Dying Bill 2015 would allow two doctors and a family court judge to consider requests from a patient with an expected lifespan of six months or less for an assisted death.

Whilst the medication would be prescribed and prepared by a doctor, the patient would have to take it themselves unaided, with a health professional present.

A number of medical professional’s have publicly written in support of the bill, claiming that the proposed legislation would help ensure safeguards were in place for a practice that is already happening behind closed doors, which Mr Sheldon agrees with.

Speaking exclusively to the EADT yesterday, Mr Sheldon said: “When she found out she had the dreaded Huntington’s disease she decided to take her own life. Life became a nightmare with the stress of knowing their could be no happy ending, as you gradually get worse and worse.

“When we had enough drugs I went away for a weekend. Had I remained in my house they would have hit a murder charge on me. It was the worst weekend of my life.

“This bill I regard as an interim measure. It only allows for assisted dying for people who have got six months to live and are in pain. It’s arguable that people in that situation have an end in site. They are not going to live.

“Neurological diseases don’t kill you. People with neurological diseases like Huntington’s or Parkinson’s or MS (multiple sclerosis), they are really in more need of a bill, it’s arguable.

“Having said that, it’s a start. We need the law to change to clarify and improve the situation. We have to have safeguards. It’s happening all over the country, friends and relatives are helping people to die but it’s all under wraps and that’s why it’s important to change the law to protect people. At the moment the situation is very murky.”

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