Thursday, January 24, 2008

Till Death Do Us Part

Romeo & Juliet were essentially kids when they fell in lust and then decided to do themselves.  Generations of people read their story care of their local soap opera writer, W Shakespeare, and wept copiously.

I felt a tear almost start and a heaviness of heart when I read the following story.  It reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Iris, and also of the senior couple in the Notebook.  Please note that I detest the latter with a passion and think the only redeeming thing in it were James Garner and Gena Rowlands.

Here unfolds a love story that traversed decades and bound a couple together onto death.

From the Daily Mail:

Elderly couple used a 'shameful' suicide manual to kill themselves because they couldn't bear to be apart


A devoted couple who could not bear to live without each other used a suicide instruction book to help them take their own lives.

James Bedell, 81, and his wife Hilda, 76, drank whisky and tied plastic bags around their heads after reading Final Exit, an inquest heard.

Coroner Donald Coverdale last night said it was "a shameful book".

Pact: Mr and Mrs Bedell had planned their death

The Bedells had in the past spoken openly to friends and family about "ending it together" as they feared becoming very ill or disabled.

The loving couple suffocated as they lay in bed listening to music.

They had spent years planning their final act in detail and had even made a living will with the help of their son in case they were found while still alive.

The pensioners, known as Ted and Nan, left notes for family, friends and neighbours to find at the home they had lived in for 21 years in Strensall, near York.

Next to the letters on the kitchen table was a book, hidden behind the outside cover of an "innocuous novel", which gave the reader guidance on how to commit suicide.

Final Exit, by retired British journalist Derek Humphry, was meant to help the terminally ill die.

final exit derek humphry

Controversial: Final Exit was meant to help the terminally ill die

Recording suicide verdicts, York coroner Mr Coverdale said: "People in pain and distress need comfort and support, not encouragement to destroy their lives. I condemn those who encourage suicide.

"James and Hilda Bedell had taken steps to minimise the upset to their family and friends. But the event will have caused the greatest distress to those who knew them."

Final Exit shot to the top of the hardback advice category on the New York Times bestsellers list when it came out in 1991.

The book is in its third edition and has been translated into 12 languages. It is banned in France.

Mr Bedell, an RAF war veteran and retired milkman, had been taking medication for anxiety and was receiving treatment for a tremor, which he feared was caused by Parkinson's disease but was more probably due to a benign tumour.

Former teacher Mrs Bedell was prescribed morphine shortly before her death for worsening pain from arthritis and osteoporosis.

Their bodies were discovered by neighbour Janet Wardell on October 23, 2006.

She found a note with her name on in the kitchen and discovered the couple dead in their bedroom with music still playing.

"I was aware of what they had done. They had long said they would commit suicide," she said.

In a statement, their son, Andrew, said: "Years ago they had made it clear they didn't want to lose their quality of life and end up in a hospital or a home. But I spoke to them around October 15 and they made no mention of when or how."

Mr Humphry, 77, wrote a book about the death of his wife Jean, who had terminal cancer but died in 1975 from a deliberate overdose of medication he had bought for her.

In Final Exit, Mr Humphry says: "Self-destruction of a physically fit person is always a tragic waste of life and hurtful to survivors, but life is a personal responsibility. We must each decide for ourselves."

•In his introduction to Final Exit, Derek Humphry explains that a "good death" comes down to the "amount of planning, attention to detail and quality of assistance".

He says it has been used by people it was not aimed at, such as the depressed or mentally ill, admitting: "This I regret, but can do nothing about."

Referring to assisted suicide, he adds: "If your assistance in helping to ease the suffering of a person who could bear no more was a loving act, and justifiable in human terms, then your conscience is clear."

At first no publisher would touch the book so Mr Humphry brought it out himself and netted nearly $1million in profits for the Hemlock Society, a U.S. group that advises the terminally ill on assisted dying and how to have a "dignified death".

The 3rd edition is published by Norris Lane Press. The book, which is also available as a DVD, can be bought for £5.

May they rest in peace and in each other's arms.