When I was 16, we lost a family member. She looked well, but the effects of age were catching up with her. It was excruciating watching the wonderful, warm personality we knew slowly fade away in front of our eyes. As much as she tried, she wasn’t able to hide her suffering anymore. After months of decline, she became too weak to even sit up and the decision was made. As I was so young, I stayed at home and my mum went along to be with her. My mum held her, stroked her hair and thanked her for always being there for us. She fell into a deep sleep and eventually, she took her last breath. She was our childhood Rhodesian Ridgeback, Cheshie.
I’m not telling you this to make light of a serious issue. When we made the difficult decision to let Cheshie go, we weighed everything up. It was inhumane to put Cheshie through further pain and suffering. After her 17 years of loyalty and service, she deserved peace not pain.
Back in 2015, the assisted dying bill arrived in the commons. Under the bill, a terminally ill person would have been able to request assistance with ending their life if diagnosed as having less than six months to live. The argument from the opposition that this change of law would be a “slippery slope” and would be readily abused by carers and medical professionals. The bill was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.
Currently, under UK law, any person that aids a suicide is at risk of a lengthy 14-year imprisonment. A week ago, Noel Conway from Shrewsbury took a stand. He suffers from motor neurone disease and wants to die a dignified death with the support of a doctor, legally. He has brought his case to the High Courts and will likely spend his final months fighting the courts for this right. He is compos mentis, making the decision on his own, though with the full support of his family, yet he is still legally not allowed.
Being aware of my own bias on the subject, I ran a twitter poll to get a social temperature (albeit within my own echo chamber). Interestingly, the results align almost exactly with the official statistics: 82% of British public support assisted dying for terminally ill adults. So with such an overwhelming majority, why did 72% of our politicians vote against it? With one person travelling to Dignitas from the UK every week and the numbers rising, they can’t ignore public opinion much longer.
Omid, a 54-year-old man has an incurable multi-systemic atrophy disease that affects his nervous system. His symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s with speech, coordination, and movement all being gradually lost. He suffers greatly each day. Yet despite this, he has many years of life left in him yet. In 2015 Omid attempted to overdose but was unsuccessful. It was after this attempt that he was moved away from his family and into a nursing home so he no longer had the ability to try. More than 300 terminally ill people like Omid end their own lives every single year. Behind that statistic is an army who are physically unable to commit the act because their illnesses prevent it. They are sentenced to suffer until their body physically can’t cope longer.
By denying this change in the law, they are condemning people like Omid and Noel and all the terminally ill citizens in the UK personal autonomy. We are sentencing them to spend their final months suffering greatly until their bodies physically can take no more. For me, as an animal lover, it boils down to one simple question; Why do we afford our pets more dignity in death than our family?