Heather Pratten knew she could face many years in prison for her son’s death. She did it anyway. But she didn’t leave him in a hot car. She didn’t beat him to death. She didn’t shoot him or stab him.
It wasn’t that she didn’t care for him, or even hated him. No, the role she played in her son’s death was the final act of a mother’s love, to grant her son’s last wish of a death with dignity. M
Nigel Pratten suffered from Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s is a degenerative disorder that causes neurons in the brain to break down. It’s entirely genetic, and patients tend to start to show symptoms in their 30s or 40s. In a video, Nigel’s mother, Heather, she said that she knew she could face 14 years in prison for “aiding and abetting a suicide.”
But, on his 42nd birthday, Nigel asked her to help him die. Huntington’s disease robs the patient of the ability to move, speak, or even swallow, so patients eventually become totally dependent on their caregivers.
The Mayo Clinic says that patients may be confined to a bed in the final stages of the disease, unable to speak, but aware of family and friends and able to understand language. They slowly lose their ability to live life, and with it, their dignity.
Heather Pratten knew that Huntington’s ran in her family, and that it seemed to start around the early 30s. Nigel initially denied that he was having problems. He always insisted he was fine, even though his mother could see him deteriorate. Then, something terrible happened, and afterward, he became more open about wanting to die.
Sir Patrick Stewart once said, according to Dignity In Dying:
“We have no control over how we arrive in the world, but at the end of life, we should have legal control over how we end it.”
He’s right, and so are others. Death with dignity, and choosing how we leave this world, should be a fundamental right, and not something withheld by law. It’s the final independent decision we can make, and among the most important. Heather Pratten could not stand to watch her son suffer anymore, and knew that it was his right to choose death.
While there are medications that can help Huntington’s patients, there isn’t really anything that can even slow the progress of the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment is mainly aimed at easing symptoms, and teaching patients to cope with the disease. For some, even that may not be enough, because the disease marches forward in spite of treatments.
Currently, there are five states in the U.S. where assisted suicide is legal. Called “aid in dying,” as reported in The New York Times, those states are Oregon, Vermont, Montana, Washington, and New Mexico. The movement is gaining momentum here as well as in the U.K. Other states are working on legislation for aid in dying, also.
Heather Pratten was charged with Nigel’s murder, and then they changed it to aiding and abetting suicide, to which she pled guilty. However, they didn’t sentence her to prison, and afterward, she became a member of Dignity In Dying. They posted a video of her story, which you can watch below:
h/t: Addicting Info