Living: I couldn't let her suffer

Two generations of Sophie's family have helped their mothers to die. Sophie hopes that, if the need arises, her daughter will end her suffering, too. By Steve Boggan

By the time Beatrice Jones's frail body stopped functioning properly, she probably had an inkling that her daughter Sophie would kill her. She had been in varying degrees of pain for years. She had been unable to eat solids for months; her stomach was riddled with cancer, agonising tumours that would send out distressing shockwaves each time the nurses moved her body to prevent the onset of bedsores.

Astonishingly, the cancer had not been diagnosed until just a few weeks before her death in 1993. That is probably when she guessed that Sophie would kill her. After all, she had killed her own mother almost half a century before.

It would be fair to say that mercy killings run in the Jones family. Two generations of them have killed their mothers and a third will be told, at the right time, that it is more humane to end a person's suffering than it is to watch them die in agony.

Sophie Jones, 40, was one of the dozens of people to come out of the woodwork in March when Derek Rowbottom, 44, from Greater Manchester, admitted giving his 80-year-old mother, Alice, an overdose of morphine to end her suffering from cancer.

He told the Independent at the time that he had opened a "Pandora's box" of guilt, released a flood of admissions from people who had secretly killed their own relatives. Some had given overdoses; others had withheld medication. Two told him they would come forward with public admissions if Mr Rowbottom were charged. His case is still being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service.

But none came forward with a story more moving than Sophie Jones's. "I feel complete sympathy for Mr Rowbottom," she said, "because my mother killed my grandmother and I, in turn, killed her."

Sophie's grandmother, Anne, was a nurse working in the Midlands when, before the outbreak of the Second World War, she developed liver cancer.

"It was before I was born, but when I was growing up, my mother told me about it," said Sophie, a mother of two from north London. "She had shrunk to no more than a yellow skeleton. My mother said her skin was stretched thinly over her bones and she was crying out in agony.

"She recalled one occasion when she was in so much pain that she was literally trying to climb up the walls. I know that climbing the walls is an expression, but my grandmother was actually doing it.

"My mother was a nurse and she was caring for my grandmother at home, so she and a doctor got their heads together and decided to put her out of her pain. When I was a girl, she always told me she couldn't bear to stand by while her mother was suffering so badly.

"She likened it to the Good Samaritan - it was easier to walk on by than to help someone in distress but that didn't make it right. She decided to be a Good Samaritan. I don't know how she administered it, but she gave her mother an overdose of morphine which, nearly 50 years later, is what I gave to her."

No one knows how many people are killed out of kindness. Very few confess, so the collation of statistics is impossible.

"They will just be there under the numbers convicted of murder or manslaughter," said a Home Office spokesperson "or, perhaps, aiding and abetting someone's suicide, which is an offence under the 1961 Suicide Act. That carries up to 14 years' imprisonment."

It would seem, however, that mercy killing is a lot more common than was previously thought. After he admitted killing his mother, Mr Rowbottom was astounded by the number of calls of support he received.

"I seem to have opened something of a Pandora's box," he said. "I had dozens of calls from people who said they did the same thing because they simply could not bear to see their loved ones in so much pain.

"There needs to be a change in the law that allows people who are terminally ill and in terrible pain to die with dignity. It seems as though a lot of people have done this but haven't had the courage to admit it because of the law as it stands. Now some of them are coming forward and it will be interesting to see what happens to us."

Sophie Jones is not coming forward. She has two young children - a girl and a boy - and if she made her deed public, she could be charged with murder.

"I have no regrets about what I did," she said. "It was in 1993 when they finally told my mother she had cancer. Her husband had died and she had re-married and was beginning to live her life again to the full. Once they told her she was riddled with tumours, she sank very quickly.

"She had had stomach problems for years and had been reduced to eating Complan and baby food, but they had failed to diagnose cancer. At the end, she couldn't even swallow the distalgesic painkillers they were giving her. I demanded they gave her morphine because she was in so much pain.

"I was caring for her at her home and I was supposed to administer the morphine by spoon but it hurt her too much to sit up, so I gave it to her in one of those big baby syringes orally, without a needle.

"By this time, she was in terrible pain. She would slip in and out of consciousness and would occasionally look at me with fear and panic in her eyes. In the last two days she came round and was talking about getting better. I said we had to bear in mind that she might not get better. Her eyes were bright and she looked at me and nodded, then she went to sleep. "I got the impression then that she was relieved, that she was exhausted but she had done her fighting and could let go now."

Perhaps Beatrice Jones's relief was based on a guess that Sophie would not let her down. She had always made it clear that her daughter was to do what she had done if the occasion should arise.

"She had been screaming like a rabbit," said Sophie. "I had never heard my mother scream. That's when I made up my mind to do it.

"I put 10 times the dosage of morphine into the baby syringe and I gave it to her. She stopped thrashing around and she was resting in peace. She lost consciousness and died the next day.

"I had a tremendous sense of relief. I know I did the right thing. Imagine if it was someone you loved - could you just stand there and let them suffer like that? Do you think they would thank you for it?"

Sophie certainly would not. She admits to harbouring fears about her own end, given that her mother and grandmother had developed cancer.

"My daughter is too young to understand yet," she said, "but as soon as she is old enough, I will gently explain what happened with her grandmother and great-grandmother. And I will tell her that if she ever finds herself in the same position with me, she too should do the right thing and, if I get the chance, I will thank her for it."

The names of the women in this story have been changed.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

    £35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most