Yorkshire widower's heartfelt plea over assisted dying

A lifetime of memories, dimmed by the insult of a miserable death. Widower Karl Sheridan, still grieving her loss, is tortured by his wife Ann's last moments.

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Karl Sheridan of Holme-on-Spalding-Moor is calling for change over assisted suicide laws. Writer:  James Hardisty

Karl Sheridan of Holme-on-Spalding-Moor is calling for change over assisted suicide laws. Writer: James Hardisty

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She had begged him, in her final weeks battling cancer, to end her life. The pain was too great, the weight of perceived shame. The indignity, of being unable to care for herself.

It would have been better, he says, if she could have escaped that torment. Had there been an assisted suicide programme, she would have been first to enrol.

Ann Sheridan of East Riding, aged 75, died in May after a six month battle with cancer.

Ann Sheridan of East Riding, aged 75, died in May after a six month battle with cancer.

"It's not fair to expect people to soldier on, knowing what's coming," says the 69-year-old, his voice cracking as he sifts through old photographs.

"She would have given anything not to have to endure these last six months. And for what? Prolonging her life? All it did was prolong her agony.

"The law is wrong. It should be a human right, to have an informed choice."

Cancer battle

Karl Sheridan, who lost his wife Ann to cancer earlier this year, felt powerless to ease her pain. He is calling for change over assisted suicide laws.

Karl Sheridan, who lost his wife Ann to cancer earlier this year, felt powerless to ease her pain. He is calling for change over assisted suicide laws.

Ann Sheridan, 75, died of cancer in May, six months after she first fell ill.

Her battle was not an easy one, fraught with operations and chemotherapy and aggravated by a painful condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome as her body rejected antibiotics.

For Mr Sheridan, it had been time of helpless frustration, watching as his wife of 43 years deteriorated. Believing that it all could have been avoided.

Having initially been diagnosed with a gall bladder infection just before Christmas, it had come as a blow to discover an aggressive cancer had spread to Ann's pancreas and liver.

They had decided then to carry on as normal. At that time Ann, still reeling from the diagnosis, hadn't been in pain.

But as the months passed and her condition weakened, so too did her resolve.

Plea to end the pain

At one point, kneeling in the garden to do some weeding, Ann found she could no longer stand up. Her husband had to roll her upright with the aid of some tarpaulin.

She could no longer wash, or dress. Bedridden, she was in constant pain.

"At that stage, she said she couldn't go on," said Mr Sheridan. "Ann had been so active, gardening, walking. To see her like that was soul destroying.

"She said 'just give me something, so that I can go. She begged me, said she couldn't go through it any more. I was giving her morphine, as per instructions...

"She knew what was coming. She pleaded, could I just give her something to just end it? I couldn't, I've seen what happens to those that do.

"Ann tried to carry on, though goodness knows how. But she didn't want any more of the embarrassment, the pain, the feeling of inadequacy.

"Cancer is a terrible thing," adds Mr Sheridan. "Ann had an aggressive form, six months and she was gone.

"She didn't have a good ending. I wish I could have done something to make it easier for her."

Campaign

Mr Sheridan, at the couple's home in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, pauses to collect himself as he looks out over the garden Ann adored.

At her fig tree, grown from a fruit, which he is terrified of over-watering. This space meant so much to Ann that he perseveres with its preservation, although it doesn't come naturally.

He carries on for her, he says, and he is speaking out today in the hope that others can avoid her pain, calling for a change in the law.

"I miss her so much," he says quietly. "Ann would have been worried about me.

"She would wanted me to remember the happy times, in the garden. All I can see is her, dying a miserable death.

"The law is wrong. Yes it's there to protect people who are mentally unwell. But for people who know they are going to die, and who know what's coming, their hands are tied.

"Seeing the way she lived in so much misery, she would have been happier if she could have gone when she was still fit."