Sir Patrick Stewart: ‘Assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all’

By Patrick Stewart | 14 August 2015
ITV News

I had always been a supporter of assisted dying, but I became a campaigner after a horrifying event.

My life-long friend’s wife was diagnosed with a serious terminal illness, and she was one of the people in this country for whom palliative care could not help.

In considerable pain she decided to end her life using a stockpile of opiates. But she didn’t die.

Taken to the hospital she was kept alive and eventually returned home, a sense of regret not at her decision, but its outcome.

Her mind was clearly made up – she was mentally competent, and her death was inevitable. She knew she wanted to end it and the pain she must have endured I can’t imagine.

Shortly after returning home she asked her husband – my friend – to walk the dog one night. Insisting that she would be OK for 15 minutes, he left and did as she asked. During that time she put a plastic bag over her head, and knotted the strings. This time, she died.

When I heard the news, and the circumstances around her death, I couldn’t comprehend the horror of what she must have experienced. I still can’t.

And now another person has been forced to take drastic measures to control their own inevitable death.

Bob Cole, like myself, was a campaigner with Dignity in Dying.

We were together at the demonstration outside parliament when the Assisted Dying Bill was being debated in the House of Lords.

He also had a personal story for supporting the campaign having accompanied his wife to Dignitas last year.

Then in a cruel twist of fate he also became terminally ill only a short time after he accompanied his wife.

He has now made the same journey, in excruciating pain, to have the same control. How can we, as a civilised society, allow this to happen? Currently we force people to suffer against their wishes, and use the force of the law to threaten those who would help their family and friends if asked to assist in a death.

Assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all. We must be free from torture and suffering, we must have the freedom to choose for ourselves. We have no choice about how and when we come into this world, but it seems that we should be able to have a choice in how we leave it if our death is fast approaching.

We have one of the finest palliative care systems in the world, but unfortunately this does not mean that everyone will have a painless death.

It is telling that in the jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal, such as Oregon in the United States, legal assisted dying works safely. In fact the Oregon Hospice Association stated that the law had not negatively affected palliative care ten years after it came into force.

Since becoming a campaigner I have met many fellow travellers along the way.

From Sir Terry Pratchett who sadly died this year, to former Archbishop George Carey who has been tremendous in putting forward the Christian reasons for supporting a change in the law.

An overwhelming majority of the British public support assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent people and it is their voice and campaigning that will ultimately give people dignity in dying.

It is clear the current law is broken and needs fixing. Parliament has the opportunity to do soon on September 11 when a new Assisted Dying Bill will be debated and it is crucial for everyone who supports to make their views known.

Bob Cole’s bravery is astonishing. In speaking out about his decision and why he had to leave his home he has shown the stark reality of the current situation.

I would implore everyone to listen to what he had to say. I hope that his story, my friend’s, and the countless others that we have heard over the years are heeded by those who have the power to put it right.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. While I agree wholeheartedly with the opinions expressed here, I think it needs to be added, and added as a matter of some urgency, that assisted dying should not be available only to those who are terminally ill (within a specified period, a judgement, by the way, is seldom made by medical professionals), but to all those who are suffering intolerably and irremediably. There are many people who suffer for years from conditions that are considered intolerable by those who experience them, conditions for which there is no remedy, and their combined suffering may amount to far more than those in terminal conditions. Long term degenerative conditions such as MS, Locked-in-Syndrome, and many other neurological conditions, just to mention one general class of persons with such intolerable an irremediable suffering, are familiar examples of the kind of suffering in question. Time to stop emphasising terminality in place of intolerable and irremediable suffering, as a basis for the decision to ask for and receive assisted dying. Unfortunately, Dignity in Dying is locked into this fatal compromise, which means that enormous numbers of people are condemned to prolonged suffering without any option other than the kind of expediencies to which Patrick Stewart’s friend’s wife was impelled.

    • I truly believe that when I am at that state of my life, or one more cancer diagnosis I want my own decision. My right to die. I do not want to live on in pain. Same thing if I ever had been found to have Alzheimer's. If I am in my own mind when it happens I will want to go. I will find a way. .

    • I agree with the person who made the point that death with assistance should not be limited to those whom are considered to be terminally ill. My husband had pancreatic cancer (stage 4b) and wished to take his own life. Because of where we lived he could not find a doctor who would help him. It was a nightmare and I would not have wished his efforts on my dog.

  2. I agree with this 100%
    I don’t want a transplant. I just want to be left to die of natural causes, and I should be able to decide when I’m ready to go.

  3. If we had had access (in the state of IL) to what they have in Oregon, my (terminally ill and in terrible pain) husband of 34 years would not have felt he had no choice but to kill himself—and for me to find him a little while later. Death with dignity would have let him go without the awful decision that led to his death by firearm. And it would have let us say goodbye (he couldn’t, or he’d have totally broken down) and I might not now have PTSD. We don’t choose our births—but can we please choose a humane peaceful death when needed?

  4. I truly believe that God can heal. I also truly believe that there are times when what is wrong with us is His way of taking us home. I also believe that medicine, when it is used to keep us on this planet, for experimental reasons, interrupts the plan that God has.

    I believe there are truly legitimate reasons for the Right to Die and the lack of what a person deems as their quality of life should be their choice. No one can live in someone else's body, therefore, they should not have the right/authority to decide to say no to a person who desires The Right to Die. Drugs do not always eliminate pain and to force someone to live in their particular situation, in my opinion, is tantamount to a living death.

  5. Not everyone believes in any religious doctrine. I personally feel it should be my right to make my own decision without the church & medical boards sticking their two pennyworth in. Give me the right to choose my own end, without being kept falsely alive using medical machinery or chemicals. Palliative care has been proven not to always work, where the smallest increase in pain relief could be a lethal dose, which is what many people suffering terminal or life debilitating illness want. My life, my death, my decision!

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