Video Evidence helps in Rational Suicide Inquest

The BBC reported the inquest into the death of Beryl Taylor(70) who died in Rattlesden, Suffolk, in July 2016. The case is also reported in more detail in the East Anglian Daily Times.

Mrs Taylor’s husband had been arrested on suspicion of assisted suicide, and later murder. He was subsequently released. The coroner made a legal conclusion of suicide and that she had made the decision of her own free will.

The court heard that after police investigation and consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service, it was decided it would not be in the public interest to proceed further. This appears to be in line with the Director of Public Prosecutions guidelines on assisted suicide. It is not clear why the possible murder charge was considered and later dropped. The DPP guidelines apply to assisted suicide but not to the even more serious offence of murder.

The case is interesting as the couple clearly researched and discussed the situation carefully before Mrs Taylor took her life and even agreed to take the unusual step of making a video recording of a statement by Mrs Taylor, and her suicide.  Mr Taylor cooperated fully with the police, having anticipated their investigation. This behaviour, accompanied by the video evidence, no doubt helped the police immensely in their investigation, and perhaps helped ensure that charges were not pressed.

Detective Sergeant Michael Gwyn told the court that when police officers arrived at the Taylor’s house they were given a ‘do not resuscitate’ notice by Mr Taylor.

“He described the incident had been recorded on camera and provided police with the camera,” DS Gwyn went on to say 
“Because of the evidence that was seen on the camera, Mr Taylor made it clear he knew his wife intended to take her life and had to some extent facilitated that.”

It is interesting that DS Gwyn told the court that “… on reviewing the camera evidence he was arrested on suspicion of murder”, yet this charge was later dropped.

The inquest heard Mrs Taylor had read a statement to the camera before taking her own life. Assistant coroner, Kevin McCarthy said: “It makes clear to me that she has reached the decision to end her life and because of her disabilities, which were quite profound, … This is a woman who has reached the state in her existence where her quality of life is non-existent and she had decided life was not worth living.”

The court was told Mrs Taylor suffered from a range of medical conditions including fibromyalgia, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivities. None of these are terminal illnesses so we can be confident that her life expectancy was longer than 6 months. This means that she would not have been helped by the type of law proposed by Rob Marris in 2015, and argued for in the Noel Conway case. (Should such a law eventually be passed in the UK, it would however be a very welcome first step.)

The case seems to show that it was a combination of incurable medical conditions which reduced Mrs Taylor’s quality of life below the level she could accept. The NHS website says “although there’s currently no cure for fibromyalgia, there are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with.” However, when coupled with other conditions, Mrs Taylor found her condition impossible to live with.

My Death, My Decision coordinator Phil Cheatle said:

“This is a tragedy which shows how some deaths are extremely bad, not only for the dying person, but for those they leave behind. Losing a wife is bad enough in itself, but going through a police investigation and risking a lengthy jail sentence is intolerably cruel for a grieving partner.”

Mrs Taylor clearly felt as though she had no other option than to end her life. She did so in the knowledge that her decision could result in her loving husband serving a prison sentence. Her decision raises a number of unanswered questions: Would Mrs Taylor have delayed her death if a medically assisted option existed? Would an open-minded counselling session have dissuaded Mrs Taylor from ending her life? Would better care, (despite her husband’s best efforts), have made her condition tolerable.

In Mrs Taylor’s case these questions will remain unanswered. The primary witness is now dead. The opportunity has been lost. Doctors currently fear any conversation about assisted dying may open criminal liability, thus counselling is not currently a realistic option. Nor, as a recent report found, are doctors given sufficient training to confidently engage in difficult conversations about death.

Our current system is demonstrably unsafe and lacks sufficient compassion. This case echoes concerns expressed about other cases where people have ended their lives themselves or with the help of others, cases like pharmacist Bipin Desai, Ian Gordon and Sir Nicholas Wall for example. The law needs to change to prevent more tragedies like these.