Tragic: Terminally-ill retired magistrate Monica Cooke who starved herself to death
An inquest heard how the 74-year-old, once a keen tennis player and an active member of several choirs, was cruelly robbed of her ability to move, taste and smell by the debilitating degenerative condition over two decades. Her husband of 40 years, David, said that she had taken the decision to end her life by starvation 'in a controlled and rational way.' A family statement read to the coroner said: ‘Having embarked upon the 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.’
The mother from Cheddar, Somerset, closely followed the High Court cases of Debbie Purdy and Mr Nicklinson, who both battled for the legal right to be allowed to die. Mrs Cooke, who has been descried as a cheerful, courageous woman with sharp intellect, had first expressed her wish to end her lengthy battle with the crippling disease earlier this year.
On August 30, she told her husband that she was preparing to stop food and fluid after taking courage from Mr Nicklinson, 58, who died following the collapse of his legal case on assisted dying.
Monica Cooke said she wanted her death to help the fight to change the law on assisted dying, after being inspired by Tony Nicklinson (pictured with his wife Jane) who campaigned for the right to die
The father-of-two, who was left paralysed after a stroke, died from pneumonia on August 22 after refusing food and fluid; a week after the High Court had rejected his request to ‘die with dignity’ with the help of medical professionals. Despite intervention by her GP, Weston Hospice, daughter Miranda and friends, Mrs Cooke remained resolute and died on September 7 at her bungalow; eight days after first refusing food. Mr Cooke said Mr Nicklinson’s final struggle gave his wife the strength to make her wish to die a reality.
Resolute: Monica Cooke, 74, stopped eating and died eight days after first refusing food
Speaking after the hearing on Thursday, 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.' He added: ‘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. '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'.'
West Somerset coroner Michael Rose said normally a verdict of suicide would be recorded but in these exceptional circumstances he was adopting a narrative verdict. At the hearing in Taunton, he said he did not “support or condone her decision” as “it was a matter for Parliament to make legislation”. But 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.'
In the statement read to the inquest on Thursday, the family of Mrs Cooke said she was disappointed with the outcome of fellow MS sufferer Debbie Purdy’s legal fight. ‘The Nicklinson case raised similar emotions and led us jointly to the conclusion that the courts could not act unilaterally and the politicians would not act because of the lack of political kudos in addressing such a controversial subject involving small numbers,’ the statement said.
‘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.’ 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 counselor for 30 years, enjoyed playing tennis and singing in choirs, and was also a Justice of the Peace in Shepton Mallet and Mendip, Somerset.
Debbie Purdy, multiple sclerosis sufferer, fought for the right to die
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. Her 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.'
Right-to-die campaigners have said the death is another tragic example of why the law on assisted suicide needs to be changed. Former MS sufferer Emma Boultwood, whose condition went into remission two years ago, said: ‘There needs to be a change in the law so that people can have help when they have reached the end of wanting to live. ‘They should be given a dignified death and they should not be put in the position where they have to take drastic measures themselves.’
Daily Mail UK