The daughters of a woman who starved herself to death to escape the pain of a crippling illness are backing a campaign for dignity in dying.
Jane Brooker, 49, who suffered from multiple sclerosis made the decision to stop eating and drinking to escape the agony of the disease.
It took 20 days for her to die after eating her last bite of food.
Daughters Annie, 29, who lives in Bristol, and her younger sister Lilly, 24, took turns to be by her bedside as the agonising and heartbreaking endeavour unfolded.
Jane had campaigned since 2009 to have the right to end her life in her own home at a time of her choice with her family around her, ever since she was diagnosed, reports The Mirror.
A law change that would have spared both her and her girls the cruel days to come if Britain had similar death-with-dignity rules to ones in Switzerland.
Jane Brooker had MS and chose to take her own life.
But Annie and Lilly could only watch in despair the once vibrant mum they adored slip slowly away.
They occasionally asked if she would like something to eat or drink in the vain hope she would change her mind.
But in their hearts, all three knew there was no turning back.
Writer Annie said: “I remember that last meal very well. We made quiche with roast potatoes and salad. We spent ages doing it together and really savoured the moments we had together.
“It felt very profound and beautiful but it also compounded how difficult it was to be in mum’s body. She couldn’t stand very well and couldn’t chew properly.
“We’d talked about taking mum to Dignitas in Switzerland but it cost thousands of pounds we didn’t have – and she had this deep desire to die at home.
Jane’s daughters Annie (left) and Lilly Brooker (Image: dignityindying.org.uk)
“So we made up her bedroom really nice, with some toys from her childhood and the blankets she loved. Then she starting to refuse food and fluid.
“She was lucid for a lot of the time but then she started sleeping more and more. At times she’d cry out in pain in her sleep, until one morning her breathing changed and I knew the time was near.
“I read to her from Women Who Run With the Wolves, a book of myths, and played one of her favourite songs, the Rolling Stones’ Far Away Eyes.
“I went to the bathroom but when I came back mum had passed away. I held her hand a while, then woke Lilly upstairs sleeping and we just spent time with her.”
In the end Jane Brooker starved herself to death
The sisters are convinced their mum would have carried on longer had she known she had the legal right for a doctor to help her die when the time came.
“She didn’t see it was tenable to go on,” said Annie. “She didn’t see where there would ever be a point where she would hang on and someone would come in and make things comfortable for her. She wanted some control over when she went.”
Jane, an artist, became an advocate for the campaigning group Dignity in Dying after being diagnosed with progressive MS, an incurable illness that causes mobility problems, sight difficulties, muscle spasm and confusion.
In a haunting video filmed for the charity in 2014, she told how she faced a painful death, adding: “I don’t want to have to travel to a business estate in Switzerland to end my life. It’s only right that if we can chose everything else in our lives, I have the right to die here.
Jane Brooker couldn’t afford to go to Switzerland
“You can’t take away the choice from people who need it most.” Now her taking up her fight, backing Dignity in Dying.
The campaign’s chair Baroness Molly Meacher last month started the first debate for five years on assisted dying after putting forward a bill in the Lords.
If passed in full, it would legalise it as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life, provided two independent doctors and a High Court judge agree. Patients would be given a cocktail of drugs to put an end to slow, agonising deaths like Jane’s.
Figures show one in seven suicides are people with life-limiting illnesses, although the way Jane died was not legally considered suicide but voluntarily stopping eating and drinking.
Annie and Lilly say their mum, who was entitled to palliative care from the local hospice near her Devon home, had always been open with them about how she wanted to take control when she died – and at what point in her illness.
By January 2019, she relied on a wheelchair, had little control over one hand, problems holding herself upright, periods of vision loss and was in constant pain.
It was only when she asked a friend to look after her beloved dog Kai for a few days in September 2018 that Annie and Lilly realised her mum had made the decision to die.
Annie said: “She planned to start the process on her own without telling us and I only found out by accident when her friend got in touch about the dog. It raised an alarm with me.”
It was then Jane confided in her girls.
“It was a pretty awful conversation,” said Annie. “You love someone so much you don’t want them to be dead, but the other side of you doesn’t want them to be in pain. It’s such a contradiction. But we knew there was no cure for mum.”
Hoping that support would help Jane carry on, Annie quit her job as a lecturer in Canterbury and moved in with her. Lilly, a care worker, already lived nearby.
But Annie distinctly recalls the moment she realised she’d have to let her mum go as Jane wept in her arms on Christmas Eve.
One of the Dignitas buildings in Switzerland (Image: AFP/Getty Images)
Annie said: “Mum was in unbearable pain, she couldn’t move and was wailing. I was holding her. She slept most of Christmas Day. It was then she made the decision. We’d had long difficult conversations about what would happen. We knew there was no hope for mum.
“That lack of hope was difficult for her. She was a very hopeful person. At one point her hair had started falling out and she got interested in learning about wigs.
“Then she started losing teeth and learned to mould false ones. If something couldn’t be fixed, she fixed it herself. So when she said she was taking control we trusted her judgment.”
Lilly said: “Towards the end mum said ‘if I haven’t been given a choice on what my body does in life I’ll f***ing well have a choice of what it does in death’. The last few days she couldn’t talk, she’d groan, but she couldn’t open her eyes. It was horrifying.”
In the weeks leading up to Jane’s death in February 2019 the family made memories, including a day trip to Glastonbury.
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Annie said: “Mum made jewellery so we did that together. She was quite spiritual and had spent time in Glastonbury as a teenager. It was lovely to have that time with her.”
Now her determination lives on in the children she left behind, both backing the Campaign For Dignity in Dying. The wife of an MS sufferer who died at Dignitas backed their call yesterday.
Sandra Barclay’s husband Andrew shared his journey to death with the Sunday Mirror in December 2016, in the hope of changing the law.
Sandra, 72, of Folkestone, Kent, said: “Jane’s is such a tragic story. Andrew would have had a longer life had he been able to stay in his home.” Meanwhile, Lilly sums up what inspires their battle in one sentence: “No kids should have to watch their mother die like that.”