“I lost my wife, but it is what she wanted”: Man campaigns for assisted dying

Len with Stella

Len and Stella Taphouse were married for 55 years and are pictured celebrating their 50th anniversary. - Credit: Julie Willers

A Hornchurch man who lost his wife through assisted dying is calling on the law forbidding it in the UK to be changed. 

“Fifty years of love and laughter” is how Len Taphouse, 82, chooses to remember his wife Stella, 78, who died in August 2019 at Dignitas in Switzerland.  Physician-assisted dying is legal there under strict conditions.

Stella was terminally ill with Parkinson’s disease and breast cancer following a previous diagnosis of cancer of the womb and skin.  

But a doctor opposing the law change - which was discussed in the House of Lords on October 22 - has said legalising it would “place huge pressure, real or perceived, on terminally ill and disabled people to end their lives”. 

Chief executive of Care Not Killing, Dr Gordon Macdonald, said legalising assisted dying and euthanasia in the UK would represent a “dramatic change in how doctors and nurses treat and care for people”. 

He believes there are many problems in legalising it including people feeling they are a “burden” on others and “normalising suicide in general populations”.  

There is different terminology used to describe ways of helping someone to die, based on the person's physical health and the way they are supported in ending their life.

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Assisted dying is the act of a person who is terminally ill and already dying choosing to take their own life, usually by drinking a medication provided by a doctor, which they take themselves.  

Assisted suicide is used to describe people who choose to die but do not have imminently life-threatening illnesses while euthanasia is broader in its conditions and sees a third party administer a fatal injection to the person wishing to die, according to campaign group Dignity in Dying.   

The group, which Len supports, campaign in the hope of changing the law on assisted dying, which it believes “denies dying people a meaningful choice over how they die”.  

Len said: “I have been lucky in life, we had a marriage made in heaven. Although I lost my wife, it’s what she wanted.”  

Len with his daughters

Len with his daughters (from left to right) Julie Willers, Lorraine Newton and Nicky Blackman. - Credit: Julie Willers

On his wife's death, Len said: "It was a comfort knowing she had gone the way she wanted to."

But Dr Macdonald said campaigning for assisted dying “obscures the wider debate about how we care for the most vulnerable in society and how we improve access to palliative care." 

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