Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is certainly a comic character and possibly a toxic one. Just like the devil she has all the best lines.

When she discovers that the man who wants to marry her daughter, Gwendolen, is an orphan, she opposes the marriage and brings the house down: “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

But as a centre of morality, as a judge of other people’s actions she’s lost the plot.

I lost two good friends because the Lady Bracknells of this country are running the show. June Whitehouse and Jean Davies both starved themselves to death because the people with power left them with ‘no alternative’ in light of the UK laws against assisted dying.

June Whitehouse was a neighbour in New High Street, Headington, confidante, friend and ally in a six-year battle to keep a certain shark crashing through the tiles of my house, a battle that raged from the council to the courts to the cabinet. She was there every step of the way.

Oxford Mail:

Bill Heine and June Whitehouse

She grew frail, ill and blind. She was in pain and wanted to die. The only legal way was starvation. I still haven’t come to terms with that. I was so horrified that I couldn’t act, and to my regret I did not visit her when she was dying.

June was a dignified, forceful but private person. This was her determined, difficult personal choice. She kept it quiet.

Jean Davies, a friend for 25 years whom I had interviewed on BBC Oxford around 50 times, also starved herself to death earlier this month and she did not keep it quiet. She was president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies and chair of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society UK.

After four weeks of fasting Jean gave an interview to The Sunday Times and made it clear she did not want anyone else involved in helping her die since assisted suicide is illegal in the UK.

She had seen a friend take a drug overdose that did not work, and she didn’t want the same thing to happen to her.

“It is hell. I can’t tell you how hard it is. You wouldn’t decide to do this unless you thought your life was going to be so bad. It is intolerable.”

Oxford Mail:

Jean Davies used her harrowing last days to highlight the absence of assisted dying in the UK

When I first met Jean she was in her early 60s and her life was the opposite of intolerable.

It was going from good to great.

She had just married again after being a widow for some years and she was passionate about life. She loved music, art and people; but she was also passionate about death, about empowering people to decide when they want to die.

I hosted several debates and saw close up that she believed the argument was first and foremost about life and living with more power than people were given in the UK over the most important moment of that life – the last one.

Jean was not terminally ill, but she suffered from frequent and frightening attacks of fainting.

Once she collapsed in a box at the opera. Another time she fainted in her bedroom and fell between the bed and the radiator with her face in the carpet. Jean described the experience. “Coming round, you don’t know where you are; you don’t know who you are. It is appalling.”

Her health declined dramatically. Jean also had chronic back pain and suffered a series of mini-strokes, something that could lead to dementia.

That was a wake-up call.

According to her daughter Bronwen, a nurse from Cardiff, “she was seen by a psychiatrist after she took the decision to end her life and she took full marks on the mini-mental test they did and was found to have capacity to make decisions about her own life”.

After an illness that took away her appetite, Jean decided not to start eating again.

On Wednesday, August 28, Jean broke bread for the last time with Bronwen.

It was a small cake she had baked herself and a nectarine with crème fraiche. “We had a cup of tea and what proved to be my last bit of baking, which was a wild success.”

In the first few weeks of getting on with the business of dying, she said goodbye to a large circle of friends.

Her two sons and two daughters and two grown-up grandchildren came to Oxford and at least one was always by her side.

“You would not believe all the benefits. I am seeing so much more of them than I usually do. They are seeing much more of me and salving their consciences about the fact that ‘before Mum died, we didn’t come enough, did we?’ “They don’t want me to die. They realise that, at 86, it is not going to be that long before I do. They give me absolute right to make my own choices.”

But the fiercely independent spirit and lover of life that I had encountered over the airwaves was never going to die quickly.

After three and a half weeks she was still alive, so she stopped drinking water.

Bronwen said that her mum “hadn’t realised that it would take so long to die after she stopped drinking. She thought it might take three days. It took a fortnight.”

During those last two weeks her mouth was extremely dry, which made it difficult for Jean to speak and she was completely dependent on carers for basic needs.

Jean Davies took her own life in the only way she believed was legally allowed.“I am doing nothing wrong. We are not breaking the law. What alternative do I have? The other methods, to my knowledge, are either illegal or I would need to go to Switzerland, and I want to die in my own bed.”

On October 1, five weeks after she started her fast, Jean Davies died with her grown-up grandson at her side, and Bronwen, who said: “She got what she wanted. She was in her own room. She wasn’t alone.”

Is there a point where life becomes unliveable and we say, if you want to die, that’s all right; or do we force people to starve themselves to death? And by the way who is the “we”?