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Forty-five-year old Annie Lindsell, from greater London, worked as a translator until boredom led her to fly the friendly skies as an air stewardess with BOAC. Seven of her fifteen years with that company were spent as a full-time trade union representative.
In 1985 Annie, on being promoted to the rank of fleet director, flipped her yes/no coin and left to take up a place at drama school, on completion of which she worked in theatre, mainly performing in musicals throughout London. Later, in order to pay the mortgage, she became a management skills/customer care trainer and set up her own training company. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Annie continued to sing and, in spite of her diagnosis, worked on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the London stage and BBC2. Soon, however, her tap-dancing days were, unfortunately, over.
From 1995 onwards, Annie Lindsell gave countless interviews to the press, television and radio about her support for wider choice at the end of life. She spoke in Parliament to a group of MPs and members of the House of Lords, and wrote to MPs asking their support for a change in the law.
Concerned about the imminence of her own death, and wishing the nature of that death to be determined as far as possible by herself, Annie then embarked on a High Court case. Aware that asking for voluntary euthanasia was not a viable option, Annie opted to clarify the law on another end-of-life issue, the doctrine of 'double effect'. She wanted reassurance that her GP, Dr Simon Holmes, could give her increasing doses of morphine to ease her mental distress at the progression of her disease (and especially the choking fits that wracked her), even though such treatment might shorten her life. It was unclear whether using palliative care for mental distress, before it was needed for physical distress, was legal. Luckily for Annie, it was agreed at the court that she could go ahead with such treatment, even if her life was shortened as a result.
Having battled so hard, Annie was unfortunately soon overcome by her disease. She died at home on 1 December 1997.
Before her death, Annie Lindsell wrote:
Patients with motor neurone disease end up trapped in a completely paralysed body but with a mind that's still intact. That's a thought that's quite terrifying to me: it's probably a bit like living in a coffin. I would very much like to have the choice, were I to arrive at a stage where I felt my quality of life was unacceptable to me, that I could ask a doctor to help me to die at a time that I thought was right. Currently the disease has affected me to the extent that I can't stand up not even for a second. My trunk muscles are affected so that if I lean forward I fall flat on my face My arms are now very poor indeed, so I am not able to take care of any of my personal needs. I can't bathe myself, I can't take myself to the loo, I can't feed myself. That's pretty untenable in lots of ways and I loath the lack of independence that this brings. But were things to remain static I would be quite happy to carry on. But I know with this disease, things aren't going to remain static, and ultimately the throat and tongue muscles become affected and I shall be unable to speak or to swallow. In the end my chest muscles will become affected and my breathing will become more and more difficult. My concerns are not really so much about dying - although I would have loved to have lived to 90 and died in bed with a 25 year old lover at that stage, if possible! But clearly that isn't going to happen to me. The dread that I have is living in an intolerable situation where I have no independence whatsoever, and being unable to communicate. So, the thought that I could ask a doctor to help me to die at a time when I felt my quality of life had become intolerable would enormously improve my current quality of life and give me a great deal of comfort now.