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How my parents killed themselves


How my great friend died
Martin Raff Scientist
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I do feel passionately about death and the way society deals with death and euthanasia and the way we don’t allow euthanasia, and I… I’ve had a number of experiences that were so horrific that they had a huge impact, still continue to have a huge impact. And one of them was a very good friend of mine who had watched his father die of cancer over many months and he unfortunately developed cancer as a young man when he was around 50, and we talked about this and I had promised him at the time that I would not allow him to die in the way his father died, which was awful, in pain and just terrible.

And he was operated on and everything looked great for a year and then suddenly this tumour exploded and he had metastases, islands of tumour in virtually every organ in his body. And so he called me and said, the time has come, and he checked himself out of the hospital and went home and the idea was he was going to kill himself with a shotgun. He was a hunter and we were going to go to his country house and he was going to shoot himself and I would be moral support there.

Anyhow, by the… I took the plane out and was in New York within ten hours of his phone call, but by this time things were moving so quickly he was delusional, was having hallucinations, he couldn’t get out of bed and so he was in no position to kill himself, unquestionably, but he was begging me to kill him. But the fact is he was now at home in an apartment with 24-hour nurses there all the time, with nothing, not… I mean, you know, he had some oral medication but it was of no use at all and there was no way to help him die. And his brother was a lawyer and he was present at the time and said, you know, you can… you have to be very careful here because there are nurses and people around and, you know, you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail if you try to do anything here.

And so I was in this impossible position; this friend was in excruciating pain, he was unbelievably scared and anxious, and it was all uncontrolled. It was all completely uncontrolled. So here we are in the middle of Manhattan with very powerful friends we knew between us, between Jim Watson and Gavin and myself we knew the presidents of every university and the heads of every medical department, and yet we couldn’t get our hands on drugs that would deal with this problem, I mean, even remove the anxiety, let alone the pain. I mean, it was totally uncontrolled.

And so we got the hospice organisation involved and they were hopeless. They were giving him homeopathic doses of drugs that didn’t control the pain at all. They were giving him nothing to control the anxiety and the fear, and it was just a nightmare and, yes, it was just… this was about the worst week of my life, to see in this day and age someone who I had promised, would not allow him to go through this horrible type of death and to watch it in New York City, it’s just unbelievable to me that this should happen.

What I shouldn’t tell you is how in the end it ended, not on tape.

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death. Recently retired from his professorship at University College, London, these stories were recorded in 2000.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: James Watson, Gavin Borden

Duration: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: 2000

Date story went live: 13 July 2010