Euthanasia Case Study Rugby Player

Suicide rugby player 'had decades to live', says euthanasia campaigner whose mother died in Swiss suicide clinic

By Daily Mail Reporter
Updated: 07:11 GMT, 20 October 2008

Daniel James, 23, felt life was no longer worth living after a rugby training ground accident left him paralysed

A campaigner  who accompanied his terminally ill mother on her final journey to a Swiss suicide clinic has told how he was 'troubled' by the death of paralysed rugby player Dan James in similar circumstances.

Edward Turner said that while he would like to see a change in UK law to allow 'assisted dying' for terminally ill patients, there was a 'distinction' between those cases and that of Mr James, who whilst paralysed, probably had 'several decades' of life ahead of him.

Mr Turner, whose 66-year-old mother suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy - the incurable degenerative disease which killed the actor Dudley Moore in 2002 - said that non-terminal patients such as Mr James effectively sought assisted suicide, not death.

Mr Turner, a trustee of the campaign group Dignity in Dying, which promotes patient choice at the end of life, said that whilst most people's reaction to the death of Mr James was one of sympathy and respect for his rights, the case 'breaks new ground'.

He said: 'The vast majority of the population wants assisted dying for the terminally ill to be legalised.

'But Dan wasn't terminally ill. He was a young, paraplegic man, probably with several decades of life ahead of him; he hadn't started the process of dying.

'Assisted dying for him was really assisted suicide.

'Although I advocate assisted dying, I'm basically against assisted suicide.

'It's not that I'm unsympathetic. But in the case of Dan James, my instinctive, gut reaction was to feel that I wish he had tried living, rather than choosing to end his own life.'

Meanwhile, a leading expert on medical ethics has called for a change in the law to allow assisted suicide in Britain following news of Mr James's death.

Baroness Warnock, a vocal euthanasia supporter, said we had a 'moral obligation to other people to take their seriously reached decisions with regard to their own lives equally seriously'.

Mr James, 23, was left paralysed from the chest down in March 2007 after a scrum collapsed during a training session at Nuneaton RFC in Warwickshire.

He died last month after being accompanied to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich by his parents Mark and Julie. They are understood to have been questioned over the death by West Mercia Police.

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Dan James, 23, a former England Students player, died last month after travelling to the Swiss euthanasia clinic with his parents Mark and Julie.

Dan, who was paralysed in a training accident, had tried to kill himself on several occasions, they said.

They added: “He was not prepared to live what he felt was a second class existence.”

His death is now being investigated by police, who have interviewed Mr and Mrs James, of Sinton Green, near Worcester.

Dan was one of the youngest Britons to have travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland for an assisted suicide.

He looked destined to follow in his father’s footsteps with a professional playing career until tragedy struck in March last year.

The burly front-row player had been training with Nuneaton rugby club and was practising  scrummaging when the pack came crashing down on him.

Dan dislocated his vertebrae which trapped his spinal cord, paralysing him, in a split second, from the neck downwards.

In a statement read out by the family solicitor yesterday, Mr and Mrs James said their son was determined to take his own life.

It said: “Dan, our much loved son, passed away on September 12, 2008.

“He had suffered an extremely serious injury following an accident on the rugby training ground 18 months ago and had never come to terms with his, much documented, extreme physical incapacity.

“He was an intelligent young man of sound mind and after giving the matter much thought became determined to take his own life and after several unsuccessful attempts, gained his wish on the said date.

“Over the last six months he constantly expressed his wish to die and was determined to achieve this is some way.

“His death was an extremely sad loss for his family, friends and all those that cared for him, but no doubt a welcome relief from the prison he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence – as a result of which he took his own life.

“This is the last way that the family wanted Dan’s life to end but he was, as those who know him are aware, an intelligent, strong-willed and, some say, determined young man.”

An inquest was opened and adjourned into Dan’s death last month.

No medical cause of death has yet been given, but the circumstances were recorded by the coroner as: “Deceased travelled to Switzerland with a view to ending his own life.

“He was admitted to a clinic where he died.”

Detective Inspector Adrian Todd, of West Mercia Police, said: “Officers have spoken with a man and a woman in connection with the case.

“A report will be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Dan had been studying construction engineering management at Loughborough University, having attended Chantry High School and Royal Grammar School in Worcester.

A trust set up in his name after his accident has raised nearly £25,000 for spinal research.

Dan, who had two sisters Georgina and Olivia, played for the England Universities team as well as the England Students side.

He made one appearance for England Universities in 2005 and five appearances for England Students between 2006 and 2007.

Assisted suicides are illegal in Britain but are tolerated in Switzerland.

In the last six years, 100 Britons have travelled to the Dignitas clinic to have an assisted death, which is believed to cost around £3,000.

Dignitas, where all known British assisted suicides have taken place, said that due to privacy laws it could not disclose whether Dan was one of its members.

It offers help to people to end their lives if they are suffering a terminal illness, a chronic condition, including paralysis, or a mental illness.

The only stipulation is that a patient has expressed a wish to die and this has been certified by a doctor.

In Britain it is an offence to assist suicide. Anyone who does faces a maximum of 14 years in prison.

There have been several high profile cases in this country where people have sought clarification in the law.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, 41, from Bradford, last month launched a case in the High Court to ensure that her husband was not prosecuted for helping her to travel abroad to end her life. She is awaiting the judge’s decision.

To date, nobody has been prosecuted for assisting a loved one to die.

Sarah Wootton, of the pro-euthanasia campaign group Dignity in Dying, said: “Even though assisted suicide is illegal in this country, it is happening.

“Dan James’s case is yet another tragic sign that the law in this country is not working. It is vital that we face up to these issues and debate them as a society.”

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