Left paralysed after a car accident, a leeds dad has become one of the most prominent figures in a legal battle over the right-to-die. he told Katie Baldwin how and why.
Coming from a paralysed man locked in a legal battle about the right to end his life, it’s not exactly what you’d expect.
Yet Paul Lamb is clear – he doesn’t want to die. Not immediately, anyway.
“I absolutely love life,” he says.
“All I want is freedom of choice. I don’t want anybody telling me I’ve got to stuff loads of tablets or medication into my body when I don’t want to.
“I want to feel that this country definitely, when I know I can’t take any more, will listen to me.”
Paul knows better than most the limits which a person can be pushed to.
He doesn’t want any sympathy, hating it when a judge in one of the previous hearings in his case said he was “sympathetic”.
Yet it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.
In 1990, he was working as a builder and long-distance lorry driver, married with a young family and living in Bramley, Leeds.
A car crash, which he remembers little of, changed his life permanently and completely.
Paul was left paralysed, spending a year afterwards in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
In the immediate aftermath he was in intensive care, his memories of which are punctuated with vivid mental pictures – including of being beckoned to a light in the distance.
When he came round, he was in a spinal injuries ward, surrounded by people in wheelchairs.
“I was wondering why I could not feel my legs and I remember being told I’d lost the use of them,” he said.
“It was like a nightmare situation.
“After getting used to the fact that my legs were not going to work, then I became aware that I could not move my arms or my hands.
“That just about finished me off.”
While in hospital, he had to come to terms that without being able to move, his life was now in the hands of others.
“Basic things like what about my personal care, how was I going to eat?,” he said. “It all started to build up.”
Just the sight of himself was frightening at first, as the heavy duty medication had drastically affected his appearance.
“One of the nurses was pushing me in a wheelchair and I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I just screamed.
“I had no hair, except for a few tufts.”
Getting home to his house in Bramley was Paul’s main focus.
He joked that the regular meetings between him, his family and doctors were to discuss his “parole”.
However he struggled to improve because, he discovered later, the dedicated physiotherapist for quadriplegic patients
was on long-term sick leave.
Eventually he did get home to his then wife, and his children Tina and Gavin, then eight and 10.
He slept downstairs at first, with his family soon coming to sleep alongside him, and over time they adjusted their lives to cope with his disability.
Paul still supported his children, with schoolwork and sports.
He proudly relates how he trained his son to improve his running, with Gavin going on to become a Yorkshire champion in track and field while Tina was also an English fell running champion.
The family went on holiday to Disneyworld in Florida a couple of years after he returned home, a promise he’d made to his son before the accident and was determined to keep.
That meant his wife having to take over Paul’s personal care – a decision he now says was “a mistake”.
The couple remained together while their children grew into adults, but divorced in 2009.
Paul, now 58, is looked after by a team of carers, still at his home in Bramley.
But it’s not just the paralysis which makes his life so difficult.
An accident as he attempted to do some exercises in hospital, or the treatment by nurses later – he is not sure which – left him with a dislocated shoulder which has never been remedied.
“This has been one of the pains I have had for 23 years,” he said.
“I have gone to every pain specialist you can imagine.
“I’ve been in hospital twice. I’ve asked them to take my arm off.”
In the end, medics refused, while another possible surgical procedure to alleviate it is too risky and no treatment has proved effective in the long-term.
He lives with the “constant source of pain” by relying on the strongest painkillers available.
Paul also suffers from permanent, agonising pain in the nerves, known as root pain.
That, and the pressure sores he has more recently become afflicted with, often confine him to bed – something he does not like.
Through everything, Paul’s will has remained strong – starting soon after he came out of hospital, when he argued with council workers who wanted to demolish the patio he’d painstakingly built before his accident in order to install a ramp.
Now he has dedicated that mental strength to changing the law over assisted suicide.
Along with the widow of Tony Nicklinson, who had started the case before his death last year, he is awaiting the decision of the highest court in the country.
Paul is glad he joined the case, for him and others.
“I am a natural fighter and as much as things get me down, I will always fight as long as I can.
“The only thing that I’m scared of is when people don’t listen to what you want.”
He says his children Gavin and Tina, who are now 34 and 32 and have children of their own, understand.
“They know what I’m trying to do, and they’re proud of me for taking it up.
“They know what my nature is, and if anybody has got the strength to do it, it’s me.
“I don’t have any fear of what I’m doing.”
And despite hoping for a ruling that would allow someone to assist him to end his life, he says he doesn’t want people to think he is “all doom and gloom”.
“I can still enjoy life, but it’s limited with the pain all the time,” he said.
“I’m not saying as soon as it’s agreed, I would go through with it. I won’t.
“This is about recognising the ultimate right of a person.”