Terminally ill retired magistrate, 74, ‘starved herself to death’ after being inspired by locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson
A terminally ill retired magistrate starved herself to death after being inspired by right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson, an inquest heard.
Multiple sclerosis sufferer Monica Cooke, 74, took the decision to end her own life after locked-in patient Mr Nicklinson’s landmark legal case on assisted dying collapsed.
She died after telling husband David she was going to stop eating – ending 20 years of suffering from the debilitating degenerative condition.
Monica had no sense of smell, touch, taste and had lost control of her bodily functions and became completely reliant on others to keep her alive.
The condition forced her to gradually withdraw from public life and she began to ”closely” follow the case of Mr Nicklinson and fellow right-to-die campaigner Debby Purdy.
Eight days after Tony died mum-of-one Monica told her husband she was going to starve herself to death.
And after eight days denying herself food Monica, of Cheddar, Somerset, was dead, an inquest in Taunton heard.
Speaking via a statement at the inquest her husband said Mr Nicklinson’s final struggle gave his wife the strength to put her long-declared plan into action.
He said: “Needless to say she paid close attention to the various cases in the national press and High Court that addressed the individual’s right to seek assistance in the ending of life under extreme circumstances.
“Naturally she followed the case of Debby Purdy, a fellow MS sufferer who at that time had not reached the same degree of disability that Monica experienced, and was disappointed at the outcome which excluded patients who were not terminally ill.
“The Nicklinson case raised similar emotions and led us jointly to the conclusion that the courts could not act unilaterally without a change to the law, and the politicians would not act because of the lack of political kudos in addressing such a controversial topic involving small numbers.
“We both felt that the lobbies against any change were loud and influential whilst the pleas of those most involved were sporadic, quiet and desperate, more involved in continuing the battle to cope.
“Having embarked on her intended course of action Monica let it be known within the family that her perception and intent should be used in any way to extend and inform the debate on the ‘assisted right to die’.
“She had addressed the subject with a detached, logical and informed way resulting in her strongly held belief in the right to self-determination and identifying the fallacy of those who believed that palliative care necessarily restored a tolerable quality of life.
”Monica’s eventual decision to end her life by starvation was taken in a controlled, and to her, rational way, balancing the ordeal she knew she would suffer, the pain she knew it would cause her family against her future prospects of minimal independence and negligible dignity.”
Speaking after the hearing he said: ”The time and manner of Mr Nicklinson’s last few days gave her the courage to put her long-declared intention into action. She wished to intervene and end her life when she chose.”
Mr Cooke told the inquest his wife was an active and outgoing woman, who was slowly crippled by the degenerative disease.
She was a marriage guidance councillor for 30 years, enjoyed playing tennis and singing in choirs, and was also a Justice of the Peace in Shepton Mallet and Mendip, Somerset.
But the disease had left the once-sprightly magistrate unable to move, taste and smell.
Monica was confined to a wheelchair in 2002, which was swapped for an electric one in 2004.
The disease had destroyed her body to such an extent that she had to retire as a magistrate because she could not lift the book of sentencing guidelines.
He husband says by 2011 Monica was a virtual ”shut-in”, who restricted the number of people who came to see her because she did not want to lose her dignity.
He said: “Nevertheless she remained relatively cheerful as can be witnessed by the various care staff, and nurses who attended her for various reasons and her handful of close friends.
“She engaged them in lively conversation, sharing her wide knowledge of this country, politics, world events, literature and culture.
“After another short infection in April 2012 she started to express to all these people her wish not to continue her life.
“The reasons given were the total loss of any sensations that could give pleasure, a total loss of dignity, and a prospect of further loss of the minimal remaining physical capacity.
“It was done in a matter-of-fact way – nevertheless, all were saddened by the down turn in her attitude.
“This attitude remained unchanged from then until August 2012 when it turned from attitude to resolve.”
Her family say she closely followed the High Court cases of Debby Purdy and Tony Nicklinson, who both battled and lost for the legal right to be allowed to die.
On August 30 this year – eight days after Mr Nicklinson died – she told her husband of her intention to stop eating.
Despite intervention by her GP, Weston Hospice, daughter Miranda, 37, and friends she remained resolute and died a week later on September 7.
Monica went through psychiatric assessments in her final days, but was deemed mentally sound.
Her GP, Dr Thomas Davies, said: “It was clear that the decision was considered and entirely her own, without any suggestion of outside influence.
“She judged the decision to end her life to be a rational response to a growing loss of dignity, something she described as a basic human right.”
West Somerset coroner Michael Rose recorded a narrative verdict at the inquest in Taunton, Somerset.
He said he did not “support or condone her decision” as “it was a matter for Parliament to make legislation”.
But he added: “No-one who heard her story could fail to be moved.”
He said: “There is no dispute in my mind that her death was brought about somewhat prematurely by refusing food.
“I in no way either support or condone the action. Anyone who has been here today cannot help but be moved by what happened.
“Clearly Mrs Cooke was of sound mind and therefore any further action by GP Dr Davies was extremely limited, he could not intervene unless she was mentally unstable – but she clearly wasn’t.”
Monica followed the right-to-die campaigns of fellow MS sufferer Debby Purdy, as well as locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson.
MS sufferer Debby, 49, lost her High Court assisted suicide legal battle, and plans to travel abroad to a ‘suicide clinic’ to die when she feels ready to die.
Tragic father-of-two Tony, 58, who was left paralysed by a stroke in 2005, lost a High Court bid on August 16 to allow a doctor to help him end his life at home.
He died at home in Melksham, Wilts., on August 22 after refusing food and contracting pneumonia – tweeting posthumously ‘Goodbye world the time has come. I had some fun’.