I wrote the following piece 17 months ago but as the issue of assisted suicide is still live (sorry, couldn’t resist it); note this news item from yesterday about Glaswegian Helen Cowie, and the Strathclyde Police announcement that they are not investigating the case of her son Robert’s death in Switzerland.
Margo MacDonald sparked controversy!
Margo MacDonald sparked controversy again recently with her assisted suicide bill. Or did she? There was considerably less drama surrounding this bill because she has Parkinson’s disease, and hearing those arguments from a shaking woman is powerful. Most of those who feel obligated to condemn right-to-die legislation on grounds of faith and/or morality are rarely in the company of folks who have to live in deteriorating and dysfunctional bodies.
I met Margo once – very briefly – and took to her instantly. She is a decent, thinking sort of person. Even those who disagree with this woman still respect her. This bill of hers is very sensibly structured and there are enough processes to go through to flag up any unscrupulous money-grabbing progeny attempting to knock inconvenient parentals off their mortal coils. You’ve got to convince a doctor and a psychiatrist twice, and there is a cooling-off period too.
Can I let you into a wee secret though folks. People who want to die know they want to die. I’m stating the obvious here, but the obvious is often lost in discussions of this type. And here’s another obvious one coming – assisted suicide is not for everyone. For some people it would be quite wrong, it wouldn’t fit them. Everybody is unique. Every BODY is unique too and so are our experiences of those bodies. We can deal with extraordinary things. We often surprise ourselves and each other. This makes the prospect of life a little easier for those living in scary bodies.
I watched Terry Pratchett’s lecture on Assisted Death with much interest. He wants to die with dignity and frankly I think the man is entitled to it. And I also believe he entitled to know that those left behind to mourn him aren’t going to find themselves in the poky for it. He has early-onset Alzheimer’s and he knows what the end of his life will bring. He is making his wishes known now in an attempt to rattle the lawmakers south of the border in to a compassionate response.
Those of us not currently dying from our long-term illnesses should be encouraged into the debate too. Many of us suffer chronic depression. Many of us have the level of physical dependency on others that our dying friends find so terrifying. I have depressive moments once in a while, mostly when I’m exhausted. On days like that the thought of waking up dead the next day is rather appealing. I know that sentence doesn’t make sense, but it’s the best way I have of putting it. I get this feeling maybe once or twice a year at most even though I’m in pain every waking moment. I’m pondering this stuff a bit differently just now as I’m most of the way through filling in a DLA re‑application form. These are real horrors. It’s difficult not to feel a little down once you’ve listed and documented every part of you that doesn’t work. The process is grim and I don’t mind telling you it left me feeling at a complete loss to work out why anyone likes, loves or hangs out with me. I feel I am too much work to be around. This’ll pass and I’ll be bothering everyone at my usual rate soon enough. If that feeling was there all the time, and every day I wished that I’d wake up dead the next day, then I think I’d be signing up for assisted death too. I’m of the opinion that misery is not sustainable, and I therefore choose to be happy. And for me it really was that conscious, and the feelings followed on later. If misery is your only constant and happiness cannot be conjured, then life itself is not sustainable.
I’m aware that we won’t all be in agreement on this and that is absolutely fine. Thankfully the legislation is not prescriptive! My hope is that whatever side of the fence you find yourself on, you remain compassionate in response to the tough choices made by the chronically ill and dying ordinary people all around you. We are everywhere you know. Sometimes we’re stuck indoors or in hospitals. Sometimes we’re wrestling with a Trident Nuclear weapons system. We are your sisters and brothers; your fathers and mothers; your neighbours and friends; your leaders and representatives; and we might be you some day too. And as for Margo MacDonald, that troublesome gem of a wummin, I’ll stand with her at the barricades right up to the point I collapse and send someone healthy to grab a chair. Those barricades better have disabled access though. And the lasting epitaph for Margo herself? “Margo MacDonald sparked controversy!”