Doctor says rugby player needed help, not suicide

The tragic death of 23-year-old Daniel James in a Swiss suicide clinic could have been avoided with the right help, says a leading doctor.

Daniel, a promising rugby player, was paralysed from the chest down when a scrum collapsed during training with Nuneaton Rugby Club in March 2007.

Following the accident, Daniel attempted suicide several times. In September Daniel’s parents travelled with him to Switzerland where he ended his life at the controversial Dignitas clinic.

A man and a woman, thought to be Daniel’s parents, have been questioned by West Mercia police, who will pass a file to the CPS.

In a statement, Daniel’s parents said: “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.”

Speaking in an interview with Channel 4 News, Dr Peter Saunders from the Care not Killing Alliance said: “I think there has to be real question about whether Daniel – and I haven’t examined him as a doctor – but it raises real questions about whether he was clinically depressed.

“There was a study published just last week in the BMJ showing that in Oregon one in four people who have assisted suicide there were clinically depressed and may well have made different decisions had they been properly supported through it.

“I think it is a tragedy that he wasn’t managed properly.”

The case has sparked fresh debate over the issue of assisted suicide, brought to the fore several weeks ago by the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy.

Miss Purdy wants the High Court to decide whether or not her husband will be prosecuted if he helps her travel to the Dignitas clinic to end her life.

Baroness Warnock, who recently suggested that elderly sufferers from dementia are burdensome and should consider suicide, has called for the law to be changed in light of Daniel’s case.

But last week a leading specialist in palliative care, Dr David Jeffrey, said such a move would destroy patient trust and could put the vulnerable at risk.

“My concern is with people who are frightened, possibly depressed and bit confused,” he said.

“These are people who don’t know where to turn and who feel they are a burden. The law has to protect them.”

Dr Saunders said: “I don’t think it’s possible to bring in a law allowing assisted suicide that couldn’t be exploited or abused.

“I think that all safeguards put us eventually on a slippery slope where we see the same kind of transition we’re seeing in Switzerland with terminally ill people then chronically ill people and now young disabled people.”

“A different life”

The Times reports the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who incurred a similar injury to Daniel’s while training in 2005 with the England under-21 team. Mr Hampson had met with Daniel before his death, which he describes as “an incredibly sad situation”.

Mr Hampson is paralysed from the neck down and requires a ventilator to breathe. However, with the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.

He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.

“I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”

Related Resources