The Death of Daniel James (from Dec 08)

As I’m having a hectic period with work and all, I thought I’d dip into the past and repeat an old article I wrote for the December 08 issue of LeNURB 

First of all, it’s worth me clarifying this article and saying that I’m not a parent.

I don’t have an emotional link anything as strong as that of a parent loving their child, the feeling of pride at their success and support in their setbacks.

So while I cannot fully comprehend the loss and sadness of the James family as they got a phone call from the Nuneaton Hospital in 2007, as they flew to Switzerland in the cold September and as they watched their son, Daniel, slip away from this world, aged only 23; I can only commend them for their bravery.

In March 2007, Daniel James was similar to a lot of you out there in reader-land. Enjoying uni, studying hard (most of the time) and learning to stand on his own two feet for the first time and forging friendships that last a lifetime. He was also continuing a life-long love of rugby, representing both club and country. On Friday 9th March he played for England Students against France (and roundly thrashed them). Afterwards he returned to his club, Nuneaton Rugby Club on the Monday only to be involved in an all-too-regular occurrence in rugby, a collapsed scrum. This one, however, ended with ultimate tragedy, he suffered a dislocation of his C6/C7 vertebrae, crushing his spinal cord and reducing his body to an immobile heap in mere seconds. He had become a tetraplegic; he had lost all use of his body from the chest down.

‘An intelligent young man of sound mind’, was how his father described him. But now he was tortured, he struggled to come to terms with his new life. He tried on several occasions to take his own life, including overdosing and starvation. For a human being to be driven to the point of such desperation by such painful and devastating means shows the true anguish he felt in his new and restrictive body.

The decision was made by his parents to charter a flight to Berne to visit an assisted suicide clinic, where it is legal to aid a person in ending their life. This decision, as I’ve said, must have been heartbreaking. While I recently said goodbye to my grandmother on her deathbed, she was elderly and in the end-stages of cancer and, though that walk from her bedside for the final time was searing and sapped me of my final resolve to tears, that I held enough about me to utter the words ‘Good-bye’ this being all I could muster; I do not have the ability to contemplate what that same walk must have felt like for Julie and Mark, Daniel’s parents.

On their return to Britain, they were taken into custody by West Mercia Police after a phone call to the police by a ‘concerned’ member of the public. This is because it is still an offence under the 1961 Suicide Act to “aid, counsel or procure the suicide of another” with a jail term for fourteen years for all those that do. And so to add to this tragedy, Julie and Mark must now face the ignominy and ordeal of investigation, when all they wish to do is mourn their little boy, the boy who scored his first try, the boy who was close to graduation, the boy who became a man.

In the end, I don’t wish to influence you, the reader, on my beliefs over the incident. I don’t wish for rugby to be made safer, I don’t wish for scrums to be banned, I don’t wish for suicide to be easy and I don’t wish for you to allow me to tell you what to think.

I simply tell you that no man should be confined to a situation they no longer desire, confined to a cell not of their own making. Daniel James was unlucky to receive such injuries and his parents reacted with bravery and courage to help their son free himself from the earth-bound shackles of his broken body. Some people have hit out, saying that they will receive judgement on the final day, that God will met out deserved punishment (for there are people as petty as this)

I believe if there is a God, He will understand

I believe if there is a final reckoning, it is between you and your God – no one else.

Daniel James died by assisted suicide on the 12th of September 2008. He was 23

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