‘He should have been allowed to die in a more dignified way’

Peter Owen as a young man
Peter Owen as a young man

A LOVING daughter is calling for assisted suicide to be legalised after her father died alone in a care home having slit his wrists in desperation.

Peter Owen took his own life earlier this month after telling family and friends he no longer wanted to carry on suffering in pain from asbestosis contracted while clearing building sites.

By the end of his life, the previously strong 76-year-old could barely turn the pages of a newspaper or lift a phone and spent his days confined to a bed at Lauriston Care Home in St Leonards.

He was laid to rest on Tuesday after a humanist ceremony at Hastings Crematorium, and his daughter, Janet Owen Driggs, used the opportunity to appeal for a change in the law.

She told the Observer: “The care my dad received was wonderful but he no longer wanted to live.

“My mother and father were both in the home together but after my mum passed away in October, dad began seriously considering suicide.

“He was an intelligent and rational man and we discussed it together at length. He was deteriorating, in pain and could only see his situation getting worse.

“He wanted to die but because of the law he was forced to end his life alone and in such a violent manner. He should have been allowed to go in a more dignified and gentle way.”

Mrs Owen Driggs said the family had looked into the possibility of flying her father to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, but that a support group had told them it would be impossible because no doctor would sign forms allowing him to travel.

The subject of helping him end his life therefore raised its head.

“I would have done all I could to help dad,” she explained, “but he was worried about implicating any of his friends or family because of the law and the threat of a 14-year prison sentence. He would not have put any of us at risk like that.

“When he realised his mind was going the way of his body he made his decision.

“I don’t feel any guilt over talking about suicide with dad. The only guilt I do feel is that I was unable to help him.

“To see someone you care more about than almost anyone else in the world in such pain and anguish but be unable to help them is terrible.”

Peter Owen was born and raised in London, leaving school at 15 and starting work on building sites across the capital.

It was during one of many cycling trips to London with best friend Derrick Norman that he first met his beloved wife Sheila.

The pair married in 1957 and moved to Hastings before a 40-year stint back in London.

During that time Mr Owen went back to school and earned a degree before becoming an integral member of his union having been politicised by an ageing colleague.

He stood for Labour in Hastings Borough Council elections in the early 1960s and, together with Sheila, returned to 1066 Country to see out their days.

As a young man Mr Owen was sent to Wormwood Scrubs after refusing to join the Armed Forces when called up for action on the grounds he did not want to be sent to Africa to fight people he believed should have the right to self-determination.

And it was this strength of conviction which helped convince his family he had made the right decision prior to his suicide.

His daughter now plans to use her experience to help push for a change in the law, but does admit that not every case will be the same as her father’s.

In fact, Mrs Owen Driggs says there are dangers in relaxing the rules.

“The concern is that some people will feel almost obliged to take that option if they feel a burden on their family,” she said.

“However, for dad it was 100 per cent the right thing to do.

“He often used to say we wouldn’t treat a dog the way he was being treated - that we’d put a suffering animal down as gently as possible.

“Dad often said he felt suffocated in his body.

“He waited until he had tied together all his loose ends and then made the rational decision to take his own life.

“It was an honourable and courageous decision and he should have been allowed to make it surrounded by the people he loved, not in a dark room on his own.”

Mr Owen is survived by his two daughters, Janet and Carel, three grandchildren, Eleanor, Rosa and Theo, and a great-grandson Leon.