Freedom for husband who helped disabled wife to die

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The Independent Online

A man who admitted helping his disabled wife commit suicide has walked free after a judge gave him a suspended sentence.

David March tightened the string around a plastic bag his wheelchair-bound wife, Gillian, had placed over her head in what was her third suicide attempt.

Mrs March, 59, had multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years and had demanded that if she was found unconscious she did not want to be revived. David March, 58, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting suicide.

He had returned to their home in Caterham, Surrey, to find his wife had taken Valium and tied a plastic bag over her head, although she was still alive. March, a landscape gardener, told police that he had retied the string around the bag and sat with his wife for half an hour as she died, then called an ambulance.

He told them: "I loved her with all my heart and would do anything for her. Life was difficult."

He was originally charged with murder but his admission of the lesser charge was accepted because there was "no realistic prospect" of a conviction.

Assisting a suicide carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, but at the Old Bailey yesterday Judge Brian Barker gave David March a nine-month sentence, suspended for a year, because of "exceptional circumstances".

The court heard Mrs March wanted her husband to find a new love before he was too old, and had screamed and shouted when she had been revived after two suicide attempts. The couple had married in 1979 and David March gave up his job in advertising to care for her after she was diagnosed with MS in 1984.

She had to give up her job as a legal secretary and had become incontinent and unable to walk. She had also written in her diary from 1992 about her intention to kill herself. She wrote that she did not want to die when she was 60 and leave her husband at an age when he was too old to find someone else. After her second failed attempt in 2005, she had written to her husband: "Enough is enough, 20 years is enough and 20 years is enough for you."

The judge said: "Your wife was determined... take her own life when she felt she had become too much of a burden. You were a husband who not only had a deep love for his wife but who displayed a selfless devotion to her. Society may understand your acts but cannot condone them."

Euthanasia campaigners have said such cases highlight the need for a law legalising assisted dying in Britain. This year, the Lords voted down a Bill that would have allowed terminally-ill people the right to die.