ACCLAIMED actor Sir Patrick Stewart has told how the death of a friend drove him to campaign for the right to assisted suicide.
He said he had been influenced by the suicide of a friend’s partner who was in the later stages of terminal cancer.
Sir Patrick said he had taken planning for the future seriously and had drawn up a “living will” for himself, instructing doctors to withhold care in certain circumstances.
But he lamented the fact that he could not include anything about taking his own life or having an assisted death if he became seriously ill.
An Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in Westminster next month and the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, introduced by the late Margo MacDonald MSP last November, is in committee stage at the Scottish Parliament.
The previous version of the bill was defeated by 86 to 15 in 2010 and critics argue there are still insufficient protections against abuse of legislation or for medical professionals who do not take part.
In March, 11 doctors wrote an open letter in support of the private member’s bill, arguing it would add to palliative care in Scotland, not undermine it.
Sir Patrick, who grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire with David Pinder, said his friend had written to tell him of his partner Gillian’s death.
The 53-year-old had suffocated herself after Mr Pinder took their dog for a walk, the actor recalled.
Sir Patrick, 73, best known for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation, said: “So desperate was she to be free of a world that had initially misdiagnosed her cancer, and then refused her the chance to die in dignity, that she had to die alone and in terrible pain.
“I have never spoken of this before, because I believed some matters are too personal to share. But the growing urgency of the assisted dying debate has convinced me that I must share this story – and I share it with David’s blessing.
“I want to show the very deep suffering that so many families like David’s are forced to endure.
“It was his experience that led me to become a spokesman for this movement, and more importantly, to decide that I, too, want the chance to die with dignity.”
Sir Patrick said he would include the option of suicide or assisted suicide in his living will if the law allowed. “And I am sure Gillian would have done so too,” he wrote in an article for a newspaper at the weekend.
Mrs Pinder attempted suicide three years ago, Sir Patrick said, and her husband prayed she would not wake up, knowing the pain she was in. She killed herself less than two days later.
Sir Patrick said: “In my view – and that of 80 per cent of the population – Gillian should have been allowed the choice to quietly slip away in David’s arms.”
A spokesman for the campaign group Care Not Killing said: “We know Patrick Stewart is a well-known supporter of dignity in dying and changing the law. This is part of the other side trying to ramp up pressure to change the law.”