Jim Duffy: Scots should not have to go abroad for assisted suicide

The partner of a woman who ended her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland was investigated by police in the UK
The partner of a woman who ended her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland was investigated by police in the UK
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If I was suffering from constant, unbearable pain, I would like to be able to get help to end my life, writes Jim Duffy

Old age, death and a plethora of ailments from cancer and multiple sclerosis to congestive heart failure will greet us all one day. Many of us will be very lucky and die simply from old age. We will close our eyes one night at home in bed, in a hospital word or care home and not open them in the morning. I guess this is the kind and gentle death that we all wish for. Little or no pain, no pressure on family and a little bit of dignity at the end with our affairs all tied up. But, while we all may hope for this end-of-life experience, for many of us, it will be less kind. And if it comes that way for me, then I’m off to Dignitas.

Living a meaningful life at any period in our lives is important to us. Whether it is finding the right partner to live out our lives with or that home that we dream of or those children or grandchildren to nurture, life has to have some meaning. But when a debilitating ailment such as cancer or MS takes hold, our lives will take on a whole new meaning. If, as is the case in many circumstances, we get better with medical care, we can go on and lead fruitful lives. But, if the prognosis is not a good one and our quality of life diminishes to such an extent that we actually have no quality of life, then I would argue that there has to be an option to end our lives in a manner of our choosing.

READ MORE: Fresh Scots bid to legalise assisted suicide

If I get to the stage where the pain is unbearable and constant and I’m suffering every day, then why should I, or anyone, not have the option to end our lives as we see fit? This is not a decision that is made on the spur of the moment. No, having gone through hospitals and doctors and specialists to best fix the problems with no ultimate success, it must be a considered one, made by someone of sound mind and soul. It will, in many cases, be made with a partner or family, who 100 per cent appreciate the pain and suffering that you are experiencing. They will have gone on this journey with you, from initial signs and symptoms, to diagnosis to treatment plans, hospitals, drugs and counselling. But, after all that intervention, you make the decision.

This is what gets lost when the media reports that this lady or that gentlemen has travelled to Switzerland to use the Dignitas services to end their lives. It is as if a person suffering from some painful and incurable condition just ups and offs to the Continent on a whim when it gets too much. This can lead to the wrong conclusions and perhaps create a perception that it’s all a bit easy and straightforward, when in fact, it has taken months or years to reach such a decision. But, it doesn’t end there.

Having made that decision with family, one has to then set the whole Dignitas process in motion. It is here that is doesn’t get any easier for patient or family. Only recently, it was reported in the press that yet another UK citizen who went to Dignitas with his partner, where she ended her life, was investigated by the British Police. How awful must this have been? James Howley, 57, traveled to the euthanasia clinic with his partner of 33 years, Helen Johnston, so she could end her suffering after deciding she could simply no longer cope with a truly agonising lung disease that was slowly killing her.

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Helen was a college lecturer and was diagnosed with the disorder in 2004. She was forced to retire in 2009 due to ill health. The condition began to slowly suffocate her and she made the decision to contact Dignitas in 2015. By the time they travelled to Switzerland, Helen’s lung capacity was just 15 per cent. Her husband James was a hero in my book, not a criminal suspect. Thankfully now, the police have decided not to proceed with a case against him.

Dignitas was her wish. Choosing how she wanted to die was her wish. Travelling to Switzerland to end her life was her wish. It provided her with a true feeling that she was accountable for her life and death in very demanding circumstances. And it makes me think that a caring society would see how valuable and consoling and compassionate assisted suicide really is for human beings like Helen Johnston. So, is now the time in Scotland, a country that wants to show how progressive and caring it is, to reconsider the 2015 no vote on assisted suicide.

Public backing on the issue remains high and appears to have grown since the last failed attempt to pass legislation at Holyrood. Perhaps now we have the opportunity to properly reflect on what this actually means for our fellow Scots or Britons who are in dire pain and enduring miserable lives with no hope. Perhaps now we can take organised religion out the equation and look at the human condition on an individual basis and not as a tenet handed down from on high. And with so many cancers and ailments prevalent these days as many of us are living longer lives so we are more prone to developing such conditions, wouldn’t it not be more humanitarian and empowering to give each individual that power to cease their own suffering?

I, for one, will reserve my human right to end my life when I choose should things not work out for the best. But, I do hope that I do not have to head to Switzerland to do that. And I do hope that I won’t have to incriminate a family member who loves me in the process.