Widower speaks out over suicide

Man arrested for helping his wife to die says he should not be prosecuted
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The Independent Online

A husband arrested on suspicion of helping his bedridden wife kill herself shortly before their 40th wedding anniversary has defended his decision, amid growing calls for a change in the law on assisted suicide.

Margaret Bateman, 62, suffered from an undiagnosed condition which left her bedridden, and she was cared for by her husband, Michael, in the three years leading up to her death.

An inquest at Huddersfield Coroner's Court heard that she had repeatedly contemplated killing herself, but had been "prevented by circumstances" from travelling to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland.

The court heard that Mrs Bateman's family had used the internet to research suicide methods in the weeks before her death on 20 October. Her husband was subsequently arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting suicide, after his wife was found dead at their home in Birstall, West Yorkshire, with a plastic bag over her head and helium pipes leading into it.

In September, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, issued new guidelines on assisted suicide in response to calls for more clarity on the laws surrounding the practice. The guidelines suggested that families who helped terminally ill loved ones to kill themselves would not be prosecuted, provided they had not "encouraged" them and that the person's intention to die was "clear and settled". However, they also stated that those who did not have an incurable illness, or had previously demonstrated indecision about wanting to commit suicide, were more likely to face prosecution. A final policy decision is expected next year.

Of an estimated 117 cases of assisted suicide abroad investigated so far, not one has resulted in a prosecution.

Earlier this month, William Stanton, who was terminally ill with bone cancer, was arrested after surviving an alleged suicide pact with his wife, Angela, who was found dead at their home in Wells, Somerset. The 79-year-old's case is under review.

Mr Bateman, a self-employed IT consultant, described his decision to help his wife kill herself as "morally right and correct". He said: "It's what she wanted. It helped her out of her suffering. If society chooses to lock me up, then society needs jolting around the issue of assisted suicide. Margaret was going to starve herself to death, but she was threatened with being taken into hospital and force-fed.

"What I did, logically, is no different to taking Margaret to Switzerland. I helped her commit suicide. Nobody has been prosecuted for going to Switzerland."

Debbie Purdy, the multiple sclerosis sufferer whose case prompted the Government to look at clarifying the law, called for a clear "framework" to allow people to die without help from relatives. "I don't think we should make friends and family the ones that carry out the final act, it is a horrible situation," she said.

Coroner Roger Whittaker adjourned the inquest until criminal proceedings have concluded. He released Mrs Bateman's body to be cremated.