Make no mistake about it. John Hicklenton triumphed over multiple sclerosis. I say this in spite of the fact that he ended his own life because of it.
Mr. Hicklenton, a graphic artist known for his illustrations, most notably, Judge Dredd comics, struggled with the ravages of MS for a decade. A resident of Brighton, East Sussex, U.K., he passed away in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic on March 19 at the age of 42.
His 2008 award-winning documentary, Here’s Johnny, chronicled his life with MS and how he turned to drawing for respite. The Telegraph U.K. quotes Mr. Hicklenton as saying “Drawing is my walking now, I run with it, I fly with it. It’s keeping me alive. I have a thing with it. I can’t wait to get a piece of paper with a pen because it’s what I can control. I haven’t got MS when I’m looking at my pictures and I haven’t got it when I’m drawing them either. It gives me an ability to express that fear.”
His was not a mild course of the disease. Johnny lived with a particularly brutal progressive form of MS, referring to it as “this terrorist illness,” yet refusing to yield to bitterness. Feeling somewhat abandoned by the medical establishment, he struggled to bring attention to the misunderstood neurological condition. He boldly used his fame to invite the world to observe the bleak realities of his life.
This quote speaks volumes, and is something most of us with MS can relate to, at least to a certain extent: “Yes, I could walk 500 yards and I could fake a normal walk, but it was just agony. You could never take the tension out of my face. To you, that is a few cobbles, a bit of uneven surface and a couple of gates. To me that is the ninth circle of f***ing Hades and pain.”
Euthanasia was something he planned on long ago in anticipation of the worst. It was the only escape from what he called torture. His plan was to persevere until he could no longer and then take control, to “go” his way. Knowing that he had this final plan actually gave him the strength to go on longer.
“I don’t like the term ‘committing suicide,’” he said. “It makes it sound like a crime. I think taking your own life is a very brave thing to do.” His death was described as a peaceful one.
However you feel about assisted suicide, Mr. Hicklenton was a brave man, one who lived life to its fullest potential and faced death with dignity. I don’t toss around the word hero lightly, but Johnny Hicklenton qualifies. May he rest in peace.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo