Meeting Paul Lamb


Our Chair Trevor Moore visited My Death, My Decision’s newest patron, Paul Lamb, with MDMD member John Watson, to hear about his upcoming legal case and campaign for a compassionate right-to-die. Paul, 63, was severely injured in a car accident in 1990 and has no function below his neck, apart from limited movement in his right hand. He requires around the clock care and is in constant pain. Five years ago, he and Jane Nicklinson, the widow of Tony Nicklinson, challenged the UK’s law on assisted dying. In May, he announced his decision to make a new attempt to change the law.


 

A lively welcome from Paul Lamb’s Chihuahua Freddie awaits any visitor before meeting the man himself. Freddie bounds up on to Paul’s lap in protective mode, then slowly loses his suspicion of the strangers in the room and leaps down to seek attention.

Paul is swift to explain his motive in preparing to launch a new case against the government for a change in the law on medical aid in dying: it’s not just about him, it’s about achieving something for the benefit of the many people who face similarly challenging circumstances. Paul’s lack of self-pity is humbling.  He expresses almost palpable resentment for the judge’s reference – in the last case he brought – to him and Tony Nicklinson being ‘worthy of sympathy’. He does not want sympathy, he wants to change the law.

Thanks to a superb team of carers, who Paul says give him as good as they get, Paul regards himself as fortunate in having a good quality of life. Currently he has no desire to bring an end to that. But the only way he will achieve peace of mind is when he has the reassurance and certainty that will come in knowing that he can control when his life ends, at a time of his choosing. He stresses that it is for each individual to judge what are acceptable levels of pain and suffering.

For Paul, the option of ending his suffering does not exist – once you rule out the gruesome possibility of self-starvation. Pain is most acute in his neck, for which he has to undergo a quarterly jumbo injection to deaden a nerve. His scream in pain is the specialist’s cue that the needle is on target. This treatment came at the end of a programme of increasing strength medication that never quite alleviated the problem.

The art of empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; but with Paul we cannot begin to attempt that. He takes a simple example: if you have a nagging toothache, you are not going to be at your best. In his case that is magnified several-fold, brought home when he shows discomfort and asks his carer for some pain relief.

Untrained by Paul, Freddie has chosen to sleep curled around Paul’s neck – which is therapeutic, because warmth helps with the pain. He wonders if the dog has a sixth sense, because he also licks Paul’s feet and hands, his other sources of pain.

Many breeds of dog have featured n Paul’s life – German Shepherd, Greyhound, English Bull Terrier and now Chihuahua. Like most dog owners, he appreciates above all the way they are constantly happy to see you, whatever mood you might be in.

The sudden announcement of the death of Paul’s favourite singer, David Bowie, in 2016, brought home to him the importance of seizing the day. Now, when he wakes up in the morning, he focuses on positive things to do. Two of his four grandchildren live a short drive away (the others are in Australia). He much enjoys visiting local friends too, even if that involves ‘putting his life on the line’ and drawing on all of his driving skills in navigating their well-meaning efforts at building precarious ramps to enable access into their houses.

Paul does not let his physical condition stop him going out, he especially enjoys the theatre – musicals like Grease, Dirty Dancing, Cats and others. Like many of us, he has also bought into the current rage for watching ‘box set’ series on TV, ranging from Game of Thrones (he has yet to see the last series) to Killing Eve. He’s looking forward to the better weather, when he can spend more time in the much-loved garden of the house he bought and renovated in the Eighties, before he had his accident.

Now, it remains for Paul to pursue his legal case to change the law on assisted dying. He is committed and has a deep conviction that, this time, he will succeed.

You can read more about Paul’s new legal case, supported by MDMD’s Assisted Dying Coalition colleagues, Humanists UK

Trevor Moore
My Death, My Decision Chair