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Point of View: 'How my partner ended her life at Dignitas'

Point of View is an ITV News series where we invite people to share their opinion on stories and issues that matter to them:

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Helen Johnson suffered for more than eight years with a rare lung condition, which was slowly and painfully killing her.

Having exhausted all the treatment options, she contacted the Dignitas clinic which provides assisted dying to the terminally ill.

By the time she travelled to Switzerland, Helen’s lung capacity was at just 15%.

As she wanted, her partner of 33 years James Howley was by her side as she ended her life.

Dignitas kept checking all the time that it was all Helen's own will, that she wasn't being pressured or forced into it.

– James Howley
Credit: Family handout

But when James returned home, he was visited by two detectives.

At a time when he should have been grieving, James suffered the trauma of being investigated by police for seven months on suspicion of assisting a suicide.

He feared facing 14 years in prison, until the charges were eventually dropped.

Credit: Family handout

I was deeply, deeply touched when the detective in charge of the investigation wrote to me a handwritten letter saying how sorry he had been to interfere in the grieving process.

But I constantly relived that last day over and over and over again. It couldn't be helped because I was being investigated and questioned about it.

But I couldn't break through and grieve as people do when they lose somebody that they love.

I have to admit that it has profoundly affected me, to this day.

– James Howley
Credit: Family handout

James now campaigns for an organisation called Dignity in Dying which say that a dying person should have the choice to control their death if they decide their suffering is unbearable.

I find the idea that in the 20th century, in a so-called civilised society, that we squeeze the last ounce of life out of people who are suffering, it's abhorrent. It's wrong.

– James Howley
Credit: Family handout

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