I'd like to take those glossy old folks' home brochures, which you now find in your letterbox, or your newspaper, and insert them vigorously into the nostrils of the advertisers.

Surely nobody looks at the pastel-toned interiors of these waiting-for-god depots and longs to rush there to sing madrigals and play Chinese chequers.

Where is it written that older people must lose their personality and preferences, and accept a life of blandness in preparation for their trip to the sky, and how has it happened that "rest homes" have taken over from family as inheritors of old people's wealth?

It is these very "rest homes" that make you dread getting too decrepit to live in your real home anymore, yet the demand is apparently great, and the money made by shareholders gratifying.


Your world shrinks as the infirmities of age start to bite, and shrink further when you enter the institution you'll leave in a box, so surely it ought to be the option of last resort.

Naturally, then, I read the account of the suicide of Annemarie Treadwell, and her explanation for it, and was sympathetic. She'd sought her suicide drug, and retired teacher Susan Austen, who delivered it to her, was found not guilty last week of aiding her suicide.

One of their batches of pentobarbitone was imported with a fascinator headpiece from Hong Kong, which lends a surreal note to the account of how a woman in a rest home voluntarily ended her life. It seems that importing lethal drugs is as complicated and ingenious as importing recreational drugs, though solely with death in mind.

The euthanasia cult, at least in this case, seems to be dominated by anxious women, possibly because men die first, and to her supporters Austen is a hero. But not to me.

If we're going to have voluntary euthanasia, and some people are clamouring for it, we'll have to do better than cloak-and-dagger escapades where the suicidal person's best interests – the case for living – are set aside.

Treadwell left a letter so depressing you could not fail to be moved by it. Aged 77 she was on a regime of painkillers for arthritis that had attacked her hands, her feet, and maybe her hips.

She had short-term memory loss, kept losing her keys, and forgot appointments, names and faces. Intelligent and university educated, she lacked the will to follow her interests. She felt boring and stupid, and she missed the loving touch and sensual possibilities of a partner.

She had entered the home at 70, when she could still manage the shift herself, finding small rooms with a [display] unit for residents' mementoes of "who they were," or maybe used to be.


"One could say they [old people] are being 'warehoused', Treadwell wrote, with mordant accuracy, leaving them unable to choose when to die while living without joy or hope. Her world, she said, was comfortless.

But this is not enough to know about her. Treadwell's doctor gave evidence that she was suffering from depression, for which she was medicated - but how open was Treadwell about her physical problems? Had she ever been referred to a specialist? Might she have benefited from surgery or physiotherapy?

What was her expectation of old age? What were her relationships with her children like, and did she have close friends? Might she have been better off staying in her own home? Did she discuss her decision to move to a rest home thoroughly with anybody, or explore it thoroughly for herself?

Most older people I know, like me, forget names, lose their keys, and fairly often can't find things they know they put somewhere. They have aches and pains and don't enjoy them, don't have their youthful libido, and may not feel confident climbing up ladders any more, but they don't want to die.

They are in their own homes, full of the clutter of life, and only occasionally think about their children having to deal with it all one day. They have pets to enjoy, grow plants, listen to music, knit, embroider, make things, read books, and sometimes hunt for their glasses when they're already wearing them.

Old age is not for sissies. Sometimes we are sissies anyway, but while the sight of a small flock of wax eyes feeding among flowers still makes us smile we are in and of the world, and our lives are precious.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666