Last rights: The battle for a dignified death

By Laura Spinney LAST December Alayne Buckley, a 61-year-old former receptionist from Wakefield in the north of England, told New Scientist about the dilemma she was facing. Buckley had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive paralysing condition that is almost always fatal. By Christmas, Buckley needed a ventilator to help her breathe, and she was spending most of her time sitting in a chair, or occasionally shuffling short distances using a Zimmer frame. She knew that within a few months she would most likely be completely paralysed and unable to communicate, while still being able to see, hear and feel pain. Buckley wanted to die before reaching this “glass coffin” stage, as she called it. So she faced a choice: either she could switch off her ventilator and suffocate to death, or she could travel to Switzerland, where a doctor could legally mix up a lethal cocktail for her to drink. Suffocation is not a pleasant way to die. But the trip to Switzerland would also throw up problems. In the UK it is illegal for anyone to aid a suicide, so she would have to make the journey on her own. But her mobility was dwindling fast. “The ridiculous thing is that I will have to go while I’m still able to move, which may be before I’m ready to die,
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