Kirin Saeed’s heartache at watching the way her husband Sandy struggled in the final weeks of his life has prompted her to back a campaign by Dignity in Dying, which launches this week, to legalise the procedure.
Sandy died at the age of 60, just months after moving back to his native Scotland to be closer to his family. He had faced ongoing battles with cancer after being born with the condition in the retina of his eye. It was removed after treatment leaving him visually impaired. Sandy also suffered secondary skin cancer and prostrate cancer later in life, both of which responded to treatment.
But when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2012, he was told he only had weeks to live, before dying in January 2013.
“From his diagnosis to his death was 16 days,” Kirin told Scotland on Sunday.
“For him it was really hard because he couldn’t see. His main form of communication was talking and nearer the end he couldn’t talk or could talk very little.
“He felt like he was struggling to get everything around his head, but also to survive – whichever way he could.”
Kirin, 50, who is also visually impaired, added: “For me to watch him struggle and to watch that process made me think that if ever I was in that situation, I would like the chance to make those choices.
“I don’t want any of the people who love me and care for me to go through what I had to watch Sandy go through, because it was pretty horrendous.”
Kirin says she has joined up with the Dignity in Dying campaign because there is a lack of public debate on the issue in Scotland.
Legislation to introduce assisted suicide has twice been rejected by MSPs at Holyrood in recent years after the late nationalist MSP, Margo MacDonald, spearheaded campaigns before her death from Parkinson’s in 2014. The most recent occasion, in 2015, saw MSPs vote 82-36 against, but this marked an increase in support from 2010 when just 16 MSPs backed the proposal and 85 were against.
Polling evidence suggests that the public are in favour of the change.
A cross-party group has been established at Holyrood to build support among MSPs, although no new legislation is expected in the current parliament.
The group’s convener, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said the initial approach is to “win hearts and minds” among the general public and stakeholder groups.
“We recognise there is still a lot of scepticism in disability organisations and in some medical groups,” he said. “So we’re not going to bring back a bill if we don’t think we’ve won the argument in all of these areas and we want to build that irresistible momentum towards change.”
As well as scepticism among disability groups and the medical profession, the Care Not Killing organisation has campaigned against the proposals and released research last month which suggested it would alter the doctor-patient relationship.