Why I let my husband die
Paul Anderson wanted to die. He'd been chronically ill for many years
and had tried to take his own life three times. The next time, his
wife Jill found him in time but decided to respect his wishes. And she
was charged with manslaughter. Hannah Booth meets her
By Hannah Booth
The Guardian, Friday 8 June 2012
On a hot sticky day in July 2003, Jill Anderson was driving home
across the North Yorkshire moors with some groceries when something
told her to put her foot down. Hurrying back, she dumped her shopping
bags in the kitchen and ran upstairs, where her husband Paul was
sitting on the bed. "What's wrong? Has anything happened?" she said.
"I'm sorry," said Paul. "I've taken enough this time."
He slumped on to the bed, falling into a deep sleep. By next morning,
he was dead.
Nine years later, Jill is sitting in a cafe in sunny Bristol reliving
that day, her marriage to "the love of her life", her arrest on
charges of manslaughter – and what it was like being in a relationship
with the threat of suicide constantly hanging over it.
Jill met Paul in September 1992. She was 37, and had been single for
much of her late 20s and early 30s. "I'd been on countless dates, but
they were never people I wanted to spend much time with, or felt
comfortable with," she says. Paul was different. "I felt secure with
him, felt I could say or do anything and he would accept me.
"I knew very quickly he was the one I'd been waiting for. I didn't
think I'd ever meet anyone, and suddenly there he was, and it was
lovely. He made life magical."
They married two and a half years later. But three days before the
wedding, Paul picked up a flu-like virus. Weeks passed, then months,
and he didn't get any better. He started to feel weak, and spent
periods in bed. Doctors did tests, but told him there was nothing
wrong, and sent him home with some aspirin. Undeterred, the couple
spent hours researching Paul's symptoms online, and soon
self-diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalitis,
usually known as ME.
CFS is persistent exhaustion that doesn't go away with sleep or rest.
There is no cure, but treatment can ease the symptoms, the most common
of which is muscle pain. Paul was unlucky: he was one of around 25% of
sufferers with severe symptoms that were compounded by health problems
since he was very young, including arthritis. CFS's physical symptoms
can lead to emotional and psychological problems, too, born out of
frustration, and from the fact that often the medical profession
doesn't take the condition seriously.
"From our wedding day on, Paul's health was up and down, but always on
a downward curve," says Jill.
Shortly after they married, they moved from London to Yorkshire, for
some quiet. Paul was a linguist and they had started a translation
agency, which was thriving. It meant they could work from home so
didn't need to live in the city. On the day they moved in, Paul "was
full of beans, putting up shelves, building a dining table and bench.
We were so happy, we thought he was finally on the mend. But it was
the adrenalin of moving because after that he crashed."
It wasn't until three years later that a consultant finally accepted
there was something wrong with Paul. He was given pain relief drugs
and encouraged to seek psychological help, which he didn't do. "He was
open-minded about [therapy] and would have had some if he thought it
would get results," says Jill. "But he had some homeopathic treatment
and fishing was a form of therapy for him."
Jill watched as her husband gradually lost his health. In the early
days, he was still well enough to take a gentle stroll in the
countryside. "We would do five miles, then it was four, three, two,
one, until he could only walk 100 yards before he was too tired to go
on," she says. His pain increased, and by the time he died, he was
virtually bedridden. The business, reliant on Paul's translating,
didn't survive and they were declared bankrupt.
She became his carer. "Looking after Paul, as well as trying to keep
the business ticking over before it went under, was a full-time job,"
she says. "It got to the point when I didn't have time to even cut my
Did it occur to her to ask for some help? "I should have done, but I
wanted to do it on my own. We both thought we were coping. I was in
contact with support groups, but we never had anyone come in to
relieve me. Paul would get terribly upset if I even called a helpline,
as he didn't want to be a burden to me. He was constantly looking for
ways to make my life easier, like setting up online shopping."
A year before he died, Paul gave up his beloved fishing. He had
started to get less movement in his upper back, and the pain was
becoming vicious. It was around this time that he made his first
suicide attempt. He left Jill a note:
"To my darling Jill, I love you more than I could ever say. I'm so
sorry. I just can't stand the pain any more. Thank you for everything
you have done for me. Please try to have the best life you can. I love
you for ever. Your loving Paul."
Jill got him quickly to Harrogate district hospital, where they saved
his life. "I understood why he wanted to die, as he was in so much
pain," she says, quietly. "But it terrified me. I loved being with him
and didn't want him to go."
Paul made a second suicide attempt shortly after that, this time
taking a combination of pills. Again, she called an ambulance and he
was rushed to hospital. From that point on, he was contemplating
suicide on a regular basis – on the third occasion, a few months
before he died, attaching a hosepipe to the car exhaust.
"I watched him go into the garage," says Jill. "I waited five minutes
then followed him in there. I pulled the hosepipe out of the car
window, and he shouted 'I want to die!' I said, you can't – and gave
him a list of all the reasons to stay alive."
During those months, as suicide became part of the language of their
relationship, how did she cope? "I don't know. I just saved him and
then we'd carry on as if nothing had happened."
Did they ever talk about it? "Just to the extent that I would tell him
how much I didn't want him to die. I became dedicated to saving his
life – clean sheets, neck pillows, his favourite foods, anything I
could think of to alleviate his suffering in the hope that he would
make some sort of recovery, and wouldn't want to [kill himself]."
It was in the final six months of Paul's life that the couple realised
his illness was serious. "Before then, neither of us wanted to admit
he was terminal, that he was never going to get better. I lived on
hope and couldn't accept he wouldn't recover. I kept thinking, what if
he'd not gone out that day [when he caught the virus] and got soaked,
or what if we'd moved to Devon and given him some sea air? But Paul
would always say that nothing would have made any difference."
The day Paul died, he and Jill had started, finally, to fill out a
detailed, 60-page form that would allow them to claim disability
allowance. It was something Paul had been putting off for months. Jill
now believes it was the trigger for his suicide – and it was this
realisation that made her rush home that hot July day. "The form meant
Paul had finally accepted that he was never going to get better," she
says. "He failed on every question. It sounds stupid, but I think we
were both stunned [by the realisation]."
When Jill found him, after returning home from her shopping trip, she
hoped – despite what he told her – that he had not taken enough pills
to kill himself. But this time, she didn't call for an ambulance. "I
felt defeated. I had to accept that he didn't want to go on. I didn't
want to see him pumped full of drugs again, forced to stay alive when
he didn't want to be."
Instead, she left him sleeping, and lay down beside him. At 9:30am the
following morning, Paul took his last breath. She called her doctor at
11am. "I wanted a few more hours with him," she writes in her memoir.
"It was selfish but these moments were all I had left of him. I felt a
strange euphoria; there was no physical pain in this place any more."
Later that day, the police arrived to take a statement – standard
procedure. And Jill's story could have ended there, with the sad but
peaceful death of her husband, an end to his suffering, and the
beginning of a slow grieving process. But on 30 July 2003, nearly two
weeks after Paul's death, Jill was arrested for assisted suicide and
She was questioned for three days – about Paul's illness, their
marriage, his suicide attempts, and her actions on the day he died.
She told them she didn't know why she hadn't called for an ambulance
when she found him, but regretted not doing so. In September 2004, she
was charged with manslaughter. The charge of assisted suicide was
dropped because the police couldn't find any evidence that Jill had
assisted Paul in taking his own life. She gave up her passport and had
to report weekly to the police station. "It was awful. They turned my
life upside down. My solicitor kept telling me, they are clutching at
straws, they'll drop the charges."
They didn't. The case came to trial – by jury – on 20 April 2005. Much
was made of Paul's history of hypochondria, and the fact that he had
rejected psychiatric treatment.
Jill was found not guilty. Today, she believes hers was a test case,
the result having serious implications for the emotive assisted
suicide and right-to-die debates. Does she ever wish she'd never
confessed to finding him before he died, and thereby implicating
herself? After all, his previous attempts to take his own life were
surely proof enough of his intentions. "No. And they would have found
The day Jill was arrested, she told the police: "I have to live with
this for the rest of my life." I ask her why, when she was so
convinced that her actions were right, she said that as it suggests
she blames herself for what happened.
"I was Paul's carer, and the duty of any carer is to look after
someone and make sure nothing happens to them," she says. "So in that
way, I failed. Because of all the media attention, and the trial, I've
been made to feel guilty. But deep inside, I know I did the right
thing for him. I knew he didn't want to live with such pain, feel
suicidal – or try to take his own life and end up in a coma, a
vegetable – permanently paralysed."
As the trial ended, Jill's grief began. "I started grieving as soon as
he died, but it's been such a strange, traumatic process that
sometimes I think it was only [after the trial] that I really started
to come to terms with it all," she says. "And grief is not a one-off
thing, it comes in waves, like acts in a play. There are certain
points in your life – the trial, moving house, writing this book –
that propel you forward."
Today, Jill lives in Devon, where she had planned to live with Paul.
Despite her occasional sweet smile, she carries a heavy sadness about
her. "Life is reasonable," she says. "But it's awful being without
him. I hate being on my own. He's completely irreplaceable."
Has writing the book been cathartic? "No, it's been like rubbing salt
in the wounds." She smiles. "But ultimately, I hope it will be."
Jill Anderson's memoir, Unbroken Trust: The Forbidden Goodbye of a
Husband's Suicide, is published by Simon & Schuster), £12.99. To order
a copy for £10.39, including free UK p&P, go to
guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846