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Cancer patient Margaret John takes assisted suicide battle to the Supreme Court
A CANCER patient who believes doctors should be free to advise patients on the most humane way to end their life has taken her case to the Supreme Court.
Margaret John, 73, from South Bank in York, has incurable ovarian cancer and currently manages her illness with chemotherapy.
But while she has been able to discuss the possible scenarios to do with care at the end of her life, she is unable to get professional advice on assisted suicide.
Her testimony is this week being considered in the Supreme Court as part of an attempt to clarify the issue of whether doctors can advise someone with a serious illness who wants to die.
The court will deliberate over fresh testimony from Ms John and another terminally-ill patient, Roch Maher, in connection with the case of a man named as “Martin”, who is severely disabled due to a stroke. He wants to be able to end his life at Dignitas, the Swiss assisted dying organisation, but cannot do so without the help of healthcare professionals.
Ms John, a former geography teacher at Joseph Rowntree School, said: “The one thing I can’t talk to anyone about is what happens at the end. It may be when the time comes the choice is absolute agony or a peaceful and dignified exit, but I don’t know how to go about the latter.
“I’m not advocating anyone else commits suicide. All I’m saying is I want to be sure if I ask my doctor or nurse for information, they would not be prosecuted.”
The case seeks to clarify the circumstances which could lead to a doctor or other healthcare professional being prosecuted and for clearer guidance.
The case is also being heard at the same time as one relating to the late Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome and died after refusing food, and stroke sufferer Paul Lamb.
Ms John – who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four years ago and is a member of Dignity In Dying – said she has received guidance from her doctor about end of life care but said they made it clear they would not discuss anything to do with assisted dying.
She said: “I would not attempt to discuss assisted dying again with a healthcare professional as I would not want to put them in a difficult position or at risk of prosecution in order to fulfil my desire for what I consider to be a good and dignified death.
"Without being able to discuss this with my healthcare team I do not really know what options are available to me in order to have the sort of death I hope for, and this uncertainty has left me feeling helpless and out of control. I fear my only real option is to attempt to end my life alone, and I don’t think I should have to resort to that.
“People in my position, who are terminally ill, should have choice and control over their death. We should not be forced to suffer against our wishes at the end of life.”