This is a Guest Post
In a recent poll, 84% of people agreed with our thoughts on assisted dying.
Yes it is difficult to think and talk about death, but as adults we need to. After all, the only guarantee we have in life is that one day we will die.
All we are asking for is freedom of choice for terminally ill people.
I am proud to be part of Dignity in Dying, South East Kent’s regional branch. This is a very emotive subject, but I find very few people who are against freedom of choice. Some may well have reservations about assisted dying, and that is understandable. Though when our stance is explained to people most will agree that we all should have the right of choice.
I have been a supporter of Dignity in Dying for a few years now, and now I am the leader of the South East Kent group, head honcho or whatever you want to call me. I don’t really like to say how long I have supported Dignity as it just makes me feel old. OK, I don’t like my birthdays, they just highlight that I’m getting old and nearer to death lol.
My girlfriend will happily tell you that I am a bit of a grumpy bunny on my birthday; especially the big ones, and next year will be a big one. In the early years I wasn’t too bad. The big birthdays were celebrations. In fact my 18th 20th 21st birthdays were real good, and I partied all night every night. Downhill since then though. My 30th, 40th, and my 50th birthdays were not so good. No one’s fault but mine. As my girlfriend says, I can be a bit of a grumpy bunny some times. I can’t believe I am going to say this here, but next year it will be my 60th birthday. If I’m honest I never thought I would live this long, but here we are.
When looking back over my almost 60 years, I feel sadness, but also joy.
Sadness for the time that has passed me by so quickly, along with this is the sadness for the friends who have left this world. I miss them and I know the sadness that their families must feel for their passing. I feel joy when I recognise how lucky I am to still be here, and I count my blessings every day. I always remember my lost friends and I remember the joyous times we had together.
A few years ago two friends died within 6 months of each other, both from brain aneurysms. Both were brain-dead as they hit the floor, both leaving children without a mother. Their deaths and the good memories I have of them have lived with me ever since their passing. Other friends have also left me as well, due to heart attacks, cancer and suicide, the list goes on.
One of the worst situations was for a guy who died from Motor Neurone Disease MND. It took a long time for him to pass and it wasn’t good for him and certainly not good for his family. He had no choice about his genes that gave him MND, and he had no choice about how he died. He was forced to do what the doctors told him to do, and they were forced/directed to do this by law. We all like choice, in fact we see this as one of our fundamental rights, but if you are dying you don’t have this right.
Dignity in Dying
Believe the right law for the UK should be one that allows terminal ill people, with six months or fewer to live, the option to control their death. We do not support a wider law. It is important to recognise that dying people are not suicidal – they don’t want to die, but they do not have the choice to live. When death is inevitable, suffering should not be. Along with good palliative care, dying people deserve the choice to control the timing and manner of their death. Some people will leave it to nature, in the hands of God you might say, others will make a different choice. Both are fine, but the lack of choice is the issue. If you treat animals this way you are them breaking the law, if you don’t relieve their suffering. But humans are forced to suffer. So we don’t have the same rights as cats & dogs.
Dying people and not doctors should be in control.
Assisted dying should be an option for us all, and this should be controlled by the dying person. Dying people should have support to take the final act that brings about their peaceful death. We do not support a law that would allow anyone to end another’s life, this is called euthanasia. This is an important definition and protection to ensure that an assisted death is completely voluntary.
People are suffering and dying without dignity, today and every day. Many people recognise that have limited choice and often they feel that their only choice is suicide. Dying people are being forced into ending their lives early to avoid painful and undignified deaths. Samaritans estimate that almost one person a day in the UK make this choice. Whether the choice is an overdose, jumping in front of a car or train or jumping off a high place, the choices are endless. None of them are a pleasant ending. I know this part is hard to read, but please read it, and recognise that one person a day will be forced into taking this route. This could be your Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother, or a friend. Or it might be you that is in this situation, what would you do? You would need to do this in secret with no help or support. If you had help your helpers would be breaking the law and could go to prison. If assisted dying was legal, you could peacefully pass away with medical help/assistance, with your friends and family with you while you slip away in peace.
Other options people have today.
Many pay thousands of pounds to travel abroad to guarantee a safe and peaceful death. They do so to access a proven and safe way to control their death with medical supervision.
Many more cannot travel, so have to risk a painful and gruesome death by ending their lives at home. Statistics show that 300 people a year will commit suicide that have a terminal diagnosis.
As I have said this equates to almost one a day, so today someone somewhere in the UK will commit suicide that has a terminal diagnosis. I think we have all heard stories of people falling in front of trains or falling from high places, with the news report talking about their terminal illness, but these are not really news worthy because this happens every day. Wouldn’t it be better if these 300 people had the choice to die at home? Dignity in Dying believes dying people should have the means to control their death safely and comfortably at home, with their family and friend with them holding their hand.
Respecting peoples consciences
Some healthcare professionals may not wish to support dying people to control their death. The law should respect this. People who do not wish to support assisted dying shouldn’t be forced to do so. Again it is about choice.
A more compassionate country and NHS
As a country we have a long and proud history of providing free and compassionate healthcare. Forcing people to travel abroad and pay thousands of pounds for a dignified death is cruel and wrong. Dying people deserve high quality end-of-life care, yes palliative care is a big part of this and so should the choice of assisted dying.
A law proven to work
We believe that doctors, patients and the general public need to have confidence that the law on assisted dying will work in practice, will be safe and will remain unchanged. This is why we call for a law based on one that started in Oregon USA and has remained unchanged since 1997, that is over 20 years unchanged. It is a law that is now in place in California, Washington and other US states. But it isn’t just the USA other countries have legalised it too Canada, Netherlands, Belgium and the numbers are growing.
What’s the situation in the UK?
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal. Euthanasia can lead to a murder charge and assisted suicide could result in a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
A Royal Precedent
Euthanasia is illegal in the UK – but in 1936 it seems there was at least one patient whose doctor decided to actively end his suffering: King George V. The king’s health had been declining and by early 1936 it was clear the end was near – on 20 January his chief physician, Lord Dawson, announced that death was imminent. The king died shortly before midnight. But decades later, when Dawson’s personal notes were revealed by his biographer Francis Watson, it emerged that this end was engineered: Dawson admitted to giving the king a lethal mix of morphine and cocaine to hasten his death.
This still happens today, and it is classed as murder, but it is overlooked.
The Bill we are pushing for is:
· Limited to terminally ill and mentally competent adults
· Requires the dying person to end their own life and does not permit another person to do it for them
· Has a waiting period to give dying people time to reflect on their decision
· Requires assessment by doctors and a high-court judge
· Allows the dying person to die at home
But how can we help to relieve this suffering
So let’s start with some basics. Dignity in Dying believes everybody has the right to a good death. OK we don’t always get one, murder and car accidents can’t really be called a good death. But a death of our choosing should be as good as it can be. Yes this includes the option of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. This isn’t complicated; it is about the choice to live or die, Dying people are not suicidal – they don’t want to die but they do not have the choice to live. When death is inevitable, suffering should not be. Along with good care, dying people deserve the choice to control the timing and manner of their death. I find it hard to say that I’m right and that person is wrong, this is about personal choice. And that is what we are fighting for,
I believe that Dignity in Dying is right and that we should have the right law for the UK. This is one that allows dying people, with six months or less to live the option to control their death. Dignity in Dying believes the same. They don’t support a wider law. I believe as does Dignity in Dying that assisted dying should be controlled by the dying person. Dying people should have support to take the final act that brings about their peaceful dignified death, if this is what they want.
We do not support a law that would allow anyone to end another’s life. This is an important protection to ensure that an assisted death is completely voluntary.
Dying people are already ending their lives to avoid painful and undignified deaths. Many pay thousands of pounds to travel abroad to guarantee a safe and peaceful death. They do so to access a proven and safe way to control their death with medical supervision. But this isn’t cheap. It costs on average of £15,000. Every eight days someone from the UK travels to Switzerland for help to die (30 people). Ten times as many dying people are ending their lives at home, by their own hands. The current law is cruel and needs changing. These people cannot travel and most people can’t afford this, so they risk a painful and gruesome death by ending their lives at home. Many more are suffering and dying without dignity because they have no choice.
We believe dying people should have the means to control their death safely and comfortably at home.
Respecting peoples consciences
Some healthcare professionals may not wish to support dying people to control their death. The law should respect this. People who do not wish to support assisted dying shouldn’t be forced to do so. We all need to be a more compassionate country with a more compassionate NHS. As a country we have a long and proud history of providing free and compassionate healthcare. But now we seem to be forcing people to travel abroad and pay thousands of pounds for a dignified death, this is just so cruel and wrong.
A last comment from a Grumpy Bunny – thank you for reading the rambling of this Bunny and to be honest I’m not always grumpy lol.
If you would like to support our cause please talk to your family and friends about this and about Dignity in Dying. Getting the politicians on our side is how things will change, talking to them is key. Here are links to help you email your local MP. This is the South East Kent page; if you live further afield then this is the page for you.
If you wanted to help us more or just follow our progress you could join our South East Kent Facebook page.
To write this I took information from the Dignity in Dying website, and also taken some information from the Guardian newspaper too.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful