A multiple sclerosis sufferer who pioneered a treatment for the disease asked her neighbour to walk her dog and then ended her life using a suicide kit bought over the internet.
Cari Loder, 48, committed suicide in her home near Godalming, Surrey using a helium-based suicide kit because she was terrified of being taken into a care home. In the days before her death she had meticulously researched ways to kill herself as her health rapidly deteriorated, leaving her permanently housebound and unable to travel to a euthanasia clinic abroad.
Dr Libby Wilson, a retired GP who campaigns for Friends at the End (Fate), which gives advice to people who want to commit suicide and has helped terminally ill patients travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, said that she had also been in regular contact with Miss Loder in the run-up to her death on 8 June.
"I spoke to Cari many times," Dr Wilson admitted. "She just wanted to make sure she had everything in order and to ask whether I had any final tips that might help. She was a highly intelligent and independent person who was determined to die on her own terms."
Assisting a suicide is technically illegal in Britain, although the Director of Public Prosecutions has ruled that pursuing people who help loved ones die in euthanasia clinics abroad is not in the public interest. Nonetheless, Surrey Police have begun an investigation into Ms Loder's death and have arrested and released on bail a 70-year-old man, believed to be the neighbour who walked her dog, on suspicion of helping Ms Loder commit suicide. He was the first to call the police to the scene.
Ms Loder, who once pioneered her own treatment for multiple sclerosis by combining an antidepressant, an amino acid and a vitamin, used a suicide kit widely available from pro-euthanasia campaigners in America. Her regime for alleviating the symptoms of MS went through pharmaceutical trials, although further research was needed. A former lecturer at London University's Institute of Education, it is believed she lived alone and had no children.
Asked whether she made any attempt to stop Miss Loder from taking her own life, Dr Wilson replied: "It's not my business to persuade people to not commit suicide. I would never advise a young person who is depressed, but people who are terminally ill deserve the right to choose whether and how to end their lives."
Miss Loder's death, the counselling she received from Fate in the run up to taking her own life and the arrest of her neighbour is likely to reignite the debate over euthanasia, which is currently banned in Britain. Recently, terminally ill patients have resorted to travelling to clinics abroad – particularly Dignitas in Switzerland – to end their lives. But until earlier this year those who helped someone commit suicide risked being prosecuted on return for assisting a suicide.
Dr Wilson said travelling abroad to a clinic was not an option for Ms Loder because her mobility was severely affected by her worsening condition. And while many people who travel abroad are helped by family members or friends, Ms Loder did not want to inform her family of her intention to commit suicide.
"It was awful that she had to die alone," Dr Wilson said. "By the time she spoke to me it was clear that she was quite determined to die. The condition of her multiple sclerosis had deteriorated rapidly. She was unable to leave her own home and was terrified at the thought of being taken in to some sort of care home."
Dr Wilson, whose campaign group have helped four people travel to Dignitas in Switzerland, said she had not been contacted by police but added: "It wouldn't surprise me if they do call me." Her campaign group routinely helps terminally ill patients access advice on how to commit suicide and openly sells books detailing suicide methods.
According to Dr Wilson, between 2006 and 2008 Fate received approximately 550 calls. Half were membership enquiries, while others were from terminally ill patients seeking advice. Dr Wilson said yesterday: "How many of those people went on to commit suicide I have absolutely no knowledge of, but I'm sure some did."
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