Last week Lord Falconer announced that his Assisted Dying Bill will be tabled in the House of Lords on Wednesday, 15th May.
The Bill would put safeguards in place so that people who are terminally ill could have the option to end their suffering at a time of their choosing. It is an issue which has been at the forefront of my life ever since we discovered that Huntington's Disease was in our family. It is a genetic disease & one of my sons, Nigel, decided early in his life, that he would never endure the suffering of the final years of the disease, which has been described as 'the slow & relentless destruction of a human being'.
Nigel saw his father & aunt with this condition & knew how it would affect him.
He lived a full life, with plenty of friends & he loved to draw cartoons for them & his family.
He was also fiercely independent & wanted no-one to care for him.
In his early thirties, he realised he had inherited the gene & when he could no longer hold a pencil & draw, he began to talk of finding a way to die. he tried to starve himself but I had him taken into hospital & he was furious with me. He then told me he had gone to the train station twice but could only think of the driver & also he did not want a violent death.
He told me he did not want to die alone.
On his 42nd birthday,, when he was beginning to find it difficult to walk, talk, was choking when he ate & could no longer enjoy being with friends, he told me his friends had obtained some heroin for him. I realised this was a good way for him to go. I had no problem with this as we had discussed it for over 2 years. He wanted a peaceful death with no more suffering.
This Bill, with proper safeguards in place to protect the vulnerable, would enable people to have a good death without putting people like myself in an impossible position. There was no choice for me, I had to be with my son & I could not deny his wish to end his life when he chose.
At the moment people who help a loved one to die are investigated afterwards & since DPP guidelines were issued to treat these cases with compassion in 2009, there have been no prosecutions of people assisting a loved one to die indirectly. It would be much safer if this issue was out in the open, so that people's requests to have an assisted death were known before they took the final action. Any potential coercion [however unlikely it appears to be] would then be much easier to identify, rather than trying to do so afterwards.
It is not acceptable to put these people behind closed doors or put their loved ones through the criminal service at a time when they should be free to grieve.
I have huge sympathy for Paul Lamb & the late Tony Nicklinson who are currently trying to change the law for assisted suicide for non-terminally ill people as they feel their quality of life is not what it should be.
However, I see this as two separate issues, Nigel was dying & nothing would have changed this.
Thirteen years have gone by since I helped my son to die & over 4 years since I became a Patron of Dignity-in-Dying & I am confident that the situation for terminally ill people will improve. Lord Falconers Bill comes at a time when we have seen the true extent of public support for such a change.
New research this week by Benenden Health shows that an overwhelming majority of people, nationally 77%, do not agree with the current situation & there is a lot of optimism that there will be a law change & Assisted Dying will become legal.
I hope those in Westminster catch up with public opinion & allow dying people the option of an assisted death. It would have helped Nigel to have the peaceful death he wanted, spared him the sorrow he felt by having to ask me to be with him & spared me the ordeal of appearing in court.