The Blog

What Has Assisted Dying Got to do With You?

As a youngish adult in reasonable health, I am not expecting to be confronting my own death in the near future, I am not currently watching a loved one die and I am not facing a jail term for helping someone to end their suffering. So what's assisted dying got to do with me?

Greater end-of-life choice has been on the agenda for some time, but has really picked up momentum in the last decade with high profile court cases, advance decisions to refuse treatment at the end of life being recognised in statue, via the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and the Director of Public Prosecutions' outlining factors for and against prosecution in cases of assisting someone to die.

In 2003 Diane Pretty took her case, arguing for her right to be assisted to die, to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2009 Debbie Purdy asked for clarification on the Suicide Act so that she knew in what circumstances she could be assisted to die without 'the assister' being prosecuted, if her suffering becomes unbearable. That is to name just two of the high profile people who have and are contributing to the debate on how to solve the current problem that people are dying badly, not only through poor or inappropriate care and lack of resources, but also because they are not permitted to ask for help to die if their suffering becomes unbearable. People are not dying on their own terms; they are at the mercy of their treating medical professionals and of the path that their illness takes.

As well as practical attempts to allow the choice of assisted dying to terminally ill, mentally competent adults in the UK, we have seen the issue being tackled by films, documentaries, books, and TV shows with increasing frequency. We have also seen an increase in support from well known individuals such as Sir Terry Pratchett and Sir Patrick Stewart. Just today actresses Kim Cattrall and Susan Hampshire have pledged their support for a change in the law. People will ask, what's assisted dying got to do with Kim Cattrall or Susan Hampshire, or our more longstanding Patrons such as Ian McEwan?

As a youngish adult in reasonable health, I have about as much reason to be concerned about the issue of assisted dying as Patron Ian McEwan, for example. I am not expecting to be confronting my own death in the near future, I am not currently watching a loved one die and I am not facing a jail term for helping someone to end their suffering. So what's assisted dying got to do with me?

The two things Ian McEwan and I have in common are that we have both watched people we love suffering unbearably at the end of their lives, and when facing death, which we will both inevitably do, we want to know that should we find ourselves to be terminally ill and mentally competent, we can ask for help to die.

Sir Terry Pratchett was accused of jumping on a bandwagon when he came out in support for a change in the law in 2009. He is facing his biggest fear; being trapped in one of the worlds his imagination has created with no way of getting 'home' again. This for him isn't about hitching a ride on someone else's bandwagon to keep him in the public eye, this is about contributing to one of societies biggest issues, if not for him, for people who are trapped in their own suffering at the end of their lives with no way out.

When asked last weekend in a Poll by Britain Thinks, 77% of the general public said that they would support a change in the law to allow people the choice that Dignity in Dying campaigns for. Public support is consistently high and particularly relevant for this issue, because we will all die, without exception. Whether you're an author, and actress, a campaigner, a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, or an anything else, you will die, and that is why we should all be engaging with the debate, celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

I am proud to be campaigning for a change in the law and arguing for greater choice at the end-of-life in certain circumstances. But wherever you are on the spectrum, between wanting complete prohibition to blanket legalisation of assisted dying, you should find a position that sits well with your beliefs, and then fight for it. This issue is not going away, it will affect the way in which we die, and any change in the law will be better for new and different contributions to the debate.