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MS sufferer chose starvation over misery

By Wells Journal  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

Monica Cooke

Parallels between right to die campaigners and a former magistrate who chose to starve herself to death were made at an inquest.

The widower of Monica Cooke, 74, of Cheddar, told Somerset West coroner Michael Rose his wife followed national coverage of fellow multiple sclerosis sufferer (MS) Debbie Purdy and locked-in syndrome victim Tony Nicklinson.

Mrs Cooke was diagnosed with primary progressive MS 20 years ago. The worsening of the disease saw the marriage counsellor, chorister and magistrate withdraw from her roles. On August 30 she announced she would stop eating and died eight days later.

Husband David Cooke said at the inquest in Taunton on Thursday: "Naturally, Monica followed the case of Debbie 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."

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Mrs Purdy had made the Government rethink about its stance after proving it impinged on human rights. That rethink led to a year-long deliberation by the Commission on Assisted Dying, who recommended it was OK for doctors to give lethal drugs to mentally aware patients who had less than a year to live and were capable of taking the final dose themselves.

Mr Nicklinson, 58, suffered a paralysing stroke in 2005 and lost his High Court bid to legally end his own life in August. A week later on August 22 he died from pneumonia after refusing food.

Mrs Cooke served as a busy magistrate in the Shepton Mallet and Mendip areas. But the MS forced her to withdraw as a magistrate when she could no longer lift the sentencing guidelines and she stepped away from the Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society when unable to turn the score pages.

A statement from Mr Cooke said: "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."

Coroner Mr Rose said this was a tragic case though he neither supported nor condoned Mrs Cooke's action, such issues being a matter for Parliament.

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 909090 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samar itans.org for details.

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