As a journalism student (many years ago!), I once scored a placement on a prestigious political magazine. It was a great experience in many ways, but I particularly remember the kindness a couple of the staff showed to me.
One of them was called Nyta. She wasn’t much older than me, but I regarded her with some awe. She was smart, gorgeous and could whip out a brilliantly written, well-informed column in the time it took me to write an intro. In subsequent years, I only ran into her once or twice, but used to chat to her on Twitter, where she would wittily decry the state of British politics.
What she never mentioned was that she had an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. I found out last summer, after she had taken herself to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, for an assisted suicide. As her friend, the writer Nick Cohen put it: ‘She died the way she lived: on her own terms.’
Earlier this year a motor neurone disease sufferer took the same journey, firing a valedictory broadside at the UK’s laws on the subject after his wife being warned that she could face 14 years in jail for accompanying him to the clinic.
In practice she won’t. No one has yet been prosecuted on returning from Dignitas. And there is something to be said for our current law. We certainly avoid the awful ethical dilemmas of say Belgium, where doctors help healthy young people with mental health issues to end their lives.
But is that good enough? The way we live and die has changed sufficiently in the last six decades to merit another look at the 1961 act, and stop ignoring the slow torture of these inevitably terminal diseases. It has certainly made me, and others, think again. Nyta would want no tribute finer than that.