After spending 6 years battling an inoperable spinal tumour Jeffrey Spector took his own life
Being a fit, healthy and active person, Jeffrey Spector could never have expected how his world would be turned upside down.
What started as back ache in 2008 soon turned into an illness which was to transform his life, leaving him faced with the most awful decision to choose to end his own life.
Speaking to The Gazette last Thursday before his final trip to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland on Friday, he talked about the choice he made and the reasons behind it.
“I was always a very, very, physical person. I had to do sports,” the 54-year-old said.
“I remember once I flew to America for work and flew back the next day.
The definition of what you do in life is not what you do for yourself but what you do for other people.
“Basically I am active, here, there and everywhere. I always tried to do things.
“From the disease point of view I am a physical person. I have to be mobile.
“But coming to my illness. I probably had it way before I realised it.”
The Manchester United fan revealed what started as a sore back and a stiff neck saw him nearly collapse at hotel in London.
He added: “I just thought I had overdone it with the sports.
“I carried on working but in early 2009 it got worse. In March that year I was doing a lot of work for a cinema company and I was invited to a party in London because the managing director, a good friend and lovely man, was retiring.
“I got there and my legs went funny. I got into my room and my legs went.
“I thought if I did not get out of the room I would not get out alive.
“I went to the party, explained why I could not stay to my friend and came straight back home.
“I then had a magnetic resonating image (MRI) scan in St Annes. I got a call saying I needed to go back.
“They did another one which showed I had a big tumour high up in my spine.
“When you have tumours, some are outside, some inside. Mine was in and around the spinal cord. I went to several neurosurgeons in the North West but did just not feel they were for me.
“I have always gone by my gut. I started doing researched alternative medicine, such as high doses of Vitamin C, which act as a pro-oxidant.”
After speaking to more doctors, Mr Spector said he found a London surgeon he was confident could remove the tumour - but discovered it was too dangerous.
Mr Spector added: “I looked at different courses of treatment.
“I spoke to surgeons, but once you have compression in the cord, what you go in with at best you go out with.
“I found a neurosurgeon in July 2009 at a top London hospital I trusted. I had surgery with him.
“When I woke up I thought the tumour would be out.
“He did not even attempt to take the tumour out.
“He got another opinion from another neurosurgeon. Even a biopsy was dangerous. I had a laminectomy - a procedure to remove bone in my spine - to free up some space.
“I spoke to an oncologist. The tumour was massive - it was across the whole cord. It was about 3.5cm. It had a large cystic component.
“I carried on with treatment - the medical profession in Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool has been marvellous.”
Following the laminectomy Mr Spector’s condition improved to the point he could start lifting weights.
He continued with taking doses of Vitamin C - admitting he felt better in 2012.
But he revealed the tumour’s positioning was of great concern.
“My tumour is the C4 area - the middle of the back of the neck. If it was in my lower back and I only lost my leg movement I would be distraught, but after three months would come to terms with it.
“I would not be 100 per cent happy. But where the height of the tumour is I would have complete paralysis from the neck down.
“After I had the operation on my back I could not move for two days - it sent me out of my mind.
“I had treatment and carried on with the alternative medicine treatment. I felt so much better.
“But I knew one day unless some radical surgery became better to regenerate nerves this day would come.”
Following a six year battle with the tumour, the 54-year-old said a worsening in his condition forced his decision to go to Switzerland, admitting he is ‘going too early’.
“You don’t just wake up and think ‘I will do it’.
“It has to be a collection of consistent thoughts, without peer pressure,” he said.
“It has to be a settled decision of sound mind. If the UK law was changed I would go down the surgery route to take the tumour out - get rid of it.
“Conventional wisdom says I won’t improve. If I am paralysed and can’t speak, send me to the spirit world.
“If I am paralysed and can speak and my mind is OK, ask me the question.
“But I don’t want to take the chance of very high risk surgery and find myself paralysed.
“You are left with the choice someone else must take over.”
On Friday the father-of-three travelled to the Dignitas Clinic to end his life. Since it was founded in 1998, it has helped hundreds of people from across Europe to commit suicide.
This includes hundreds of people from the UK, the first of who was Reg Crew, in January 2003.
A camera is set up to record the patient take the drug themselves - firm evidence it was not administered by clinic staff.
The barbiturate, or poison, is a colourless solution, which the patient drinks.
Within five minutes they lapse into a coma, and the heart stops soon afterwards. Mr Spector said his decision to take his life started after his condition worsened earlier this year.
He added: “I want my family to have a good life. I want them to move forward.
“A man wants the best for his family, not for himself. I want my kids to enjoy their lives.
“If they cared for me and I got better, fine.
“But I won’t. “I know it sounds stupid, but it is the knowing there is an end to it.
“I became a member of Dignitas in 2009. I made a date to go to Switzerland for May 8 but wanted to get through to the end of my daughter’s exams.
“I cancelled it and made a later date, but went really downhill.
“I could not use my hands. I had no pressure in my fingers.”
Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law.
Depending on the circumstances, euthanasia is regarded as either manslaughter or murder and is punishable by law, with a maximum penalty of up to life imprisonment.
Assisted suicide is illegal under the terms of the Suicide Act (1961) and is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Mr Spector said such issues left him with no choice but to go to Switzerland.
“I am going too early because of the law in the UK. I am going worse quite quickly,” he added.
“I am very clear and of a sound mind. I want people to know it is not just a decision.
“I knew and always knew when my hands got to a certain point, that would be a red line.
“If the law was changed then what difference if I had an operation?
“I could do it after.
“Rather than go late, I am jumping the gun.
“I can still quit at the last moment. I call this the least worst option.
“I have considered the implications for my family. It is a selfish, unselfish decision.
“It is best for my family in the long term. If the law was changed I would not have gone when I did.
“I am going before my time. I am not scared.
“I know if I become worse I could not cope. The disease could stabilise but I do not know that - I can’t take that chance.
“If I die five or 10 years later I would feel guilty.
“It is the law in the UK making people go before.”
Mr Spector said after his death his ashes will be flown back to the UK by an undertaker from London.
He admitted some may criticise his decision - but urged them not to judge him.
He said: “I respect their view.
“But never judge someone unless you have worn their shoes.
“If they want to help people like me live longer change the law.
“If the law was changed I would not be doing it today. I want the privilege to have a cup of tea and hold the phone. I believe in my human right to dignity.
“Before judging someone wear that person’s shoes.
“I want to be able to do it myself.
“Not in the last stages of my life.
“The definition of what you do in life is not what you do for yourself but what you do for other people.
“I believe what I am doing is in the long term interests of my family.”
In a statement, his family said: ‘Jeffrey was particularly clear that he did not want to live a life in which he was paralysed and reliant on his family to care for him.
‘Earlier this year, Jeffrey’s condition deteriorated to such an extent that he believed he would soon be permanently and completely paralysed.
‘Whilst this was, of course, a difficult and painful time, as a family we supported and respected Jeffrey’s decision 100 per cent.
‘Whilst we are now in a state of all-consuming grief and miss Jeffrey very much, we also recognise that he is now at peace.’