Daughter wants law change to allow assisted suicide

The scene outside Carl and Patricia Cleaver's Burton Latimer home following Mrs Cleaver's death in April last year
The scene outside Carl and Patricia Cleaver's Burton Latimer home following Mrs Cleaver's death in April last year

A woman has called for a change in the law after an inquest was told her father took his own life while waiting to hear if he would face charges of helping her mother die.

Carl Cleaver, of Queensway, Burton Latimer, later killed himself after struggling to cope with the death of his beloved wife, Patricia.

At the inquests into their deaths, the court heard how the suicide pact was the result of the couple’s long held belief that people should have the right to end their suffering through assisted suicide.

Their story is reminiscent of a recent Coronation Street plot in which Hayley Cropper died in the arms of her husband after deciding to end her suffering by taking an overdose.

Coroner Ann Pember, sitting at Kettering Magistrates Court, heard how Patricia Cleaver, 76, had been an active member of her community but had been struggling to manage her diabetes.

Mr Cleaver, also 76, provided her care.

In the weeks leading up to her death in April last year, she saw doctors several times and called out paramedics as she feared her condition was deteriorating. Despite reassurances from them, the court was told that Mrs Cleaver had decided she wished to end her life.

The couple told their children what they intended to do and daughter Katherine came to the couple’s home with her children to say goodbye to her mother on the evening of Friday, April 12, last year.

When they left, Mr Cleaver prepared a massive dose of insulin and handed it to his wife.

She injected it herself.

Mr Cleaver stayed with her until the early hours, when she began to gasp for breath.

By 9am he believed she was dead so telephoned Katherine, who came to the house.

At about 10.30am, Mr Cleaver phoned paramedics and told them that his wife had taken an overdose of insulin.

When they arrived they found her laid out on her bed, covered by a white sheet.

Mr Cleaver was arrested on suspicion of murder, later downgraded to assisted suicide. He remained on bail for several months because toxicology results from a sample sent to a laboratory in Guilford were delayed.

While on bail, he became ill and spent seven weeks on a psychiatric ward at St Mary’s Hospital in Kettering.

On his release he struggled to cope with the thoughts that he may be sent to jail, despite support from his wider family, and on September 17, 2013, he drank some whisky, put a knife into his own heart and died in his bathtub.

He left his clothes neatly folded and several notes to his family members.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr George of St Mary’s Hospital treated Mr Cleaver.

He told the inquest: “He said he’d helped his wife by drawing up a fatal dose of insulin but she’d administered it herself. His belief in euthanasia was long-standing.”

Mr and Mrs Cleaver’s daughter Katherine Perkins, of St Catherine’s Road, Kettering, told the court that her mother had been getting “frailer and frailer” in the weeks before her death.

She said: “My father phoned me and said your mother would like to see you. The children went with me because this would be the last time they would see their nan.

“Dad said mum had decided she may take an overdose.

“I told her that wasn’t something she’d have to do.

“Whatever happened she’d never be a burden. They discussed quantities of insulin she’d have to take.

“I did a search on my telephone. They wanted to know if it would be peaceful.”

Mrs Cleaver’s brother Howard Gransfield told the court that he had read of the death in the paper four days after she died.

He called Mr Cleaver to offer his condolences.

Mr Gransfield said: “He started talking about his plans for the future and said he wanted to earn millions for Dying with Dignity. He seemed quite manic.

“He said he’d prepared three pens of insulin with 80 units in each and had given her the pens.

“I told him I didn’t really want to know all of this.”

Sergeant Andy Barnes of Kettering Police Station attended the home on the morning of Mrs Cleaver’s death and, after speaking to him, arrested him on suspicion of murder. In interview, Mr Cleaver described how he had prepared 260ml of insulin for her before leaving the room.

When he returned, she had taken the insulin.

He said he had stayed with her and held her hand before she fell into a coma.

After he was released on bail, Mr Cleaver made a call to police.

In that call he told them he had helped his wife to die and intimated that he may harm himself.

In a post mortem examination, doctors were unable to ascertain whether the dose that Mrs Cleaver had taken was enough to be classed as an overdose. But results sent to a specialist lab were delayed for months after an administrative mix-up.

It was these toxicology results that may have cleared Mr Cleaver of an assisted suicide charge.

Returning an open verdict, coroner Ann Pember said: “While it seems likely that Patricia Cleaver died of an overdose, this can’t be proven by evidence or the post mortem findings.

“I can’t be satisfied that Mrs Cleaver injected herself with a fatal overdose of insulin or that she was assisted to do so by Carl Cleaver.”

In the case of Mr Cleaver’s death, a verdict of suicide was returned.

Daughter calls for change in law

Following the inquest, the Cleavers’ daughter Jennifer Breakspear of Rushden said: “We strongly believe that if someone wants to end their life, they should be able to.

“There should be a change in the law. It would avoid so much heartache and suffering.

“But we want to make it clear that it’s not just as easy as Hayley and Roy found it in Coronation Street. It is nowhere near as simple as that.

Detective Inspector Louise Hemingway said: “This is a very, very sad case.

“We did everything we could to ensure that the toxicology results were back as soon as possible but unfortunately it was out of our hands.”

TV show highlights euthanasia debate

The issues surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide were raised in a recent storyline in ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

The storyline centred around the characters Hayley Cropper and husband Roy.

Hayley’s exit storyline saw her diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

She died in Roy’s arms after drinking a lethal cocktail. The episode attracted 9.7 million viewers, the show’s highest figure in almost a year.

While Hayley took steps to ensure Roy could not be accused of assisting her, the show highlighted the debate about assisted suicide.

Depending on the circumstances, euthanasia is regarded as either manslaughter or murder and is punishable by law with a maximum penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Assisted suicide is illegal under the terms of the Suicide Act (1961) and is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Attempting to commit suicide is not a criminal act in itself.

Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering.

For example, a doctor who gives a patient who has terminal cancer an overdose of muscle relaxants to end their life would be considered to have carried out euthanasia.

Assisted suicide is the act of deliberately assisting or encouraging another person who commits, or attempts to commit, suicide.

If a relative of a person with a terminal illness were to obtain powerful sedatives, knowing that the person intended to take an overdose of sedatives to kill themselves, they would be assisting suicide.

In 2013 Lord Falconer of Thoroton tabled an Assisted Dying Bill, seven years after the last attempt to legalise assisted dying in Westminster.

A YouGov poll found that 75 per cent of the British public agreed with the proposals of the Bill, which will be debated some time after May this year.