Timothy (pictured) writes about the experience of his best friend, Stuart.
Not all of us will have a personal story when it comes to the debate on assisted suicide but let me tell you mine. My best friend, Stuart, died of Motor Neurone Disease. When he was diagnosed, he was properly scared, the more so as he continued to research the condition and its prognosis. He looked at assisted suicide and there was a time when he pretty much thrashed around the system, trying to make it work for him. He was not able to travel to Switzerland or undertake the other known routes to this. So he stayed in Scotland.
After that time, when he knew he would just have to play it out, he and I often talked about his deep thoughts and his life generally. And over the next few months some very positive things happened. He reconciled with his ex-wife – he told me that he gained so much peace from this and that if he had not done so, he would have remained in an agitated state about it. He also recognised that it allowed her a release as it helped her to come to terms with his impending death and to be able to look back at their time together without the dark cloud of negativity.
He gained patience. Always an impulsive man, he said that in finding patience he also found he had further lessons to teach his children and a purpose in that. They appreciated his new approach to their relationships and benefited from knowing that their father was still able to guide and teach them even whilst in a wheelchair with declining physical control. He maintained an infectious love of life – life in the present, rather than the negative of ‘a life robbed short’ or of ‘what might have been.’ This positively impacted so many of his friends, myself included. Yes, he was frustrated with the disease, but he saw his positive impact on so many others and the legacy he was giving them.
Efforts were made to make him comfortable. His house was adapted for wheelchair use. He was taken on many trips not just so he could see a certain view for one last time, but so he could visit those places with people who mattered to him and to whom he mattered. And so that he could be involved in laying down memories that he wanted to lay down with us all. Eventually he was settled into a hospice, made as familiar and homely as possible. He remained there until the end and was treated as a respected human being, afforded dignity and loved and cared for by others. At this time he continued to have purpose, to have a sense of worth with his life. He continued to relate to us, to interact with us and be a loving father and a good friend who made a positive difference in our lives. He finally died, at peace and fulfilled.
“He told me, many times, that if he had been able to undertake ‘assisted dying’ then he would have missed all the above. And the legacy for his family and friends would have been an entirely negative one of bitterness and empty death”Timothy
He told me, many times, that if he had been able to undertake ‘assisted dying’ then he would have missed all the above. And the legacy for his family and friends would have been an entirely negative one of bitterness and empty death. At the start, whilst scared to die, he wanted ‘out’ but he then found something so much better, and provided with care and dignity, he positively enjoyed his last months. He appreciated the medical and care staff who ensured that pain was reduced or removed, and discomfort was eased. They cared for him, not for his illness. They treated him with respect for who he was as a human being and did not just look at him as a number, eager for the day when he was off their care list.
Our society would be worse off if it were to implement a system that sees people with terminal illnesses treated as lost causes in need of help to take their own lives. In a good society, terminally ill people would continue to enjoy the enriching experience of seeing their positive impact on others, without being asked if they want to opt out of life. We need to devote our resources to creating excellent palliative care for every person, not the provision of lethal drugs to vulnerable and fear-stricken people. As human beings, we are in relationship with one another. We have a duty to care, not kill. It has always been this way in medicine, and for good reason.
The bills before Westminster and the Scottish Parliament include “assisted dying” in their titles. This is a euphemism, and misleading. These proposals suggest a change in the law that compels doctors actively to participate in the suicides of patients. Please consider the medical staff. It is all very well passing the buck and assuming that a doctor who signs the certificate, the medic who prescribes the lethal drug, the doctor who delivers it to the patient will all be ‘fine’. They won’t be. Such decisions will haunt them as care givers, as is evidenced by research from other jurisdictions.
I do not know your own back story, reader. Perhaps you have a personal experience which is different to that of my late friend. If you do, I offer my sympathy. However, I urge everyone who is approaching this debate to realise that life is precious, in all circumstances – even the most difficult ones. Surely our country will be better if it operates on that principle – the preciousness of life – and commits to care for, affirm, and always protect human beings. Suicide is not something I want to see, or something my friend would have wanted for others in his situation.