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Devizes Festival: An Instinct for Kindness, Wharf Theatre
NINETEEN months ago actor Chris Larner lost his wife, Alison, who had been suffering with MS for some years.
But she died by her own hand, in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, after deciding she had had enough of the distressingly debilitating effects of her disease.
An Instinct for Kindness, performed by Mr Larner at the Wharf Theatre on Friday as part of Devizes Festival, was his portrayal of the train of events that led to her death.
We learned that they met while working together in a community theatre company, Alison nine years older than Chris. They married and, while Alison was pregnant with their son, George, she collapsed and was swiftly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
But Alison fought back and was eventually able to climb the hills around their home in Otley, West Yorkshire. Then the deterioration began anew, leading to muscle spasms, double incontinence, vertigo and numerous other side effects. Nurses in the hospital where she was sent for rehabilitation were cruel and the doctors neglectful.
Eventually, Alison said: “I’ve had enough of this.”
She decided, despite the alarming cost, she was going to end her life at Dignitas. The bureaucratic obstacles put in their way were astonishing. They might have been hiding a Jew in Nazi Germany for the fear and paranoia they were put through.
But they won through and travelled to Switzerland for the process that would lead, kindly and gently, to Alison drinking a fatal draught of drugs, ending her pain forever.
Mr Larner could simply have stood and spoken about their experiences and we would have understood intellectually why they had done what they had done. But, by using his skills as an actor, we were there in the Dignitas clinic, watching her drink that last dose and knowing that, though she didn’t want to die, she couldn’t go on living like that.
The full house at the Wharf sat mesmerised by the story and there was more than one tearful audience member at the end. Mr Larner led a discussion after a short break but, to my mind, there was nothing more to be said.
The subject of “assisted suicide” remains a bone of contention in this country but there is no denying the strong argument presented by Mr Larner that there has to be a better way than inadequate “palliative care”.