As our campaign for Dignity in Dying continues to gain momentum, one clear indication of our progress is the number of well-known public figures who are choosing to take a stand and add their voice to this important issue.
Below are statements from each of our patrons, all of whom offer an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of our campaign in the busy time ahead.
In alphabetical order:
My starting point is a conviction of the importance of Jesus' response when asked what were the greatest of all the laws of religion. Jesus stated that all religious law and prophetic teaching depend on loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength and on loving your neighbour as yourself. He clarified the implications of loving one's neighbor through his "golden rule" that we should always treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. The former Oxford professor of Moral Philosophy R.M. Hare argued that
There is "no moral question on which such teachings have a more direct bearing than the question of euthanasia.." Opinion polls repeatedly show that at least three-quarters of respondents would wish to be given assistance to die if they found themselves suffering unbearably in the final stages of a terminal illness. It is also noteworthy that some highly ethical doctors help out colleagues and their own loved ones when facing terminal illness. If they were to extend assistance to die to their patients they would literally be fulfilling Jesus golden rule of treating others as they wish to be treated themselves. "
 R.M. Hare, Essays in BioethicsOxford, Clarendon 1993, p.72
 Mary Warnock and Elisabeth Macdonald, Easeful Death, Oxford 2008, p.122
I believe strongly that any human being who is suffering should be able to demand a dignified, humane and painless death. I think it disingenuous to argue that such a law might be abused. Any law might be abused and often is. It's called 'a crime'. No one argues that such laws be repealed or abolished because some unscrupulous persons abuse them. Yet in this case, the possibility of illegal action is used to oppose the introduction of a bill which would provide, in appropriate circumstances, a person's right to die. It cannot be beyond our ability to put in place safeguards and procedures to ensure the protection of the weak and suffering individual. To condemn a person to live in intolerable pain and suffering is inhumane and should have no place in a civilised society.
Few of us will die when we want to. Most of us will die too soon, but a significant few too late. There have been great medical advances which have helped prolong life. What we need now are equal moral and practical advances to ensure that what is being prolonged is not just needless and unwished-for suffering.
As President of the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Brain Tumour UK, and Vice-President of the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Association, I have known many patients who have had to live with the certain knowledge of a premature, probably undignified, and in some cases, extremely distressing death. Many of these courageous people feel that the capacity, if necessary, to choose whether and when to die, to avoid a difficult and painful 'natural' death, would greatly improve their remaining time, and greatly reduce the stress and distress to their loved ones. I believe that the right to choose the most dignified form of one's own death is fundamental.
Knowing that most of us, it seems, want the freedom to choose when and how to end our lives so as to avoid, for ourselves and our families, the harrowing consequences of a messy, drawn-out and painful death, that choice must be enshrined in a framework of law that the majority of our society accepts as reasonable and workable. Dignity in Dying is seeking to bring about that state of affairs and I fully support it in that effort.
As a child, there existed in my mind a nagging fear about this thing called death and I can remember feeling so unsettled and troubled I could never share my anxieties. A strange paradox that as I have become older it is a subject I very much wish to speak about. I want to give assurance to the people I love that they circumstances of their death will be 'good', to be celebrated and their final hours will be reflective of a life well lived.
My wife, Miche died alone because she had an incurable disease. She was a very gregarious person and to die alone because the law wouldn't allow loved ones to be with her at that time must have been awful for her. We are, by nature creatures who make decisions and like company, why then if we are struck down with an incurable disease are we forced to end our lives alone? This law must change and I support Dignity in Dying in their pursuit of this.
My father, who was suffering from cancer and no longer wished to live, died as he chose: in peace and dignity, with my mother beside him. I passionately hope that, if I too were terminally ill, in pain or increasingly dependent for the smallest everyday activity and was finding life unbearable, I could be allowed to die at a time of my choosing.
I can think of few worse horrors than being condemned to linger on, trapped alive days without end, in an existence that was utterly joyless. The terrible thing is that, if I had to travel abroad to a country where assisted death was legal, I couldn't have my adored husband with me in my last hours, knowing that if he accompanied me, he could risk being sentenced to up to 14 years in jail.
I know that I am not alone in wanting the law changed. As author of 'The Good non Retirement Guide', I was contacted by many anguished individuals, desperate for advice that I couldn't give.
I equally know that not everyone feels the same way and I understand and respect them for their beliefs. The point I would make, however, is that they are free to make their choice. But why should they be able to deny freedom of choice to the many thousands of others, who want reassurance in law to know that, if terminally ill and no longer wanting to live, they could be allowed to die in dignity without fear of a loved one being imprisoned for holding their hand at the end.
Sir John Burgh
I believe human beings should have the right to decide when and how they die, subject to some safeguards. This belief is strengthened by the circumstances of my terminally ill sister and brother-in-law's assisted death some years ago.
Sir John Burgh died on April 12th 2013
I believe each human being deserves a say in their own death. I watched both my father and mother die, one of leukaemia, the other of a long, lingering old age. I talked to doctors who would not, for instance, let my mother go. The years of watching her helpless, in bed, made me believe that those who are dying deserve a say in what happens to them in their final days or weeks. We are all going to die. Just as we have civic and legal rights, so it is not for the state and the medical profession only to decide how we should die. We should be able to participate and for this reason I support Dignity in Dying, which is working so hard and so well to achieve this for us: the right to a good death.
I would like there to be a choice of assisted dying for people who are suffering in their final weeks. A law to allow assisted dying would protect dying people from the awful situations they currently face if they want some control over their death. When I played Claire Harrison in Whose Life is it Anyway it made me appreciate the difficulties people face when considering how and when they die. This is an extremely important cause and I am therefore honoured to be a Patron of Dignity in Dying.
I have supported Dignity in Dying's campaign to change the law to permit assisted dying since my brother John Close died with help from Dignitas in May 2003, aged 55. Motor Neurone Disease had robbed John of almost everything which defined him as human, including his dignity, but the knowledge that he would be in control of his death was a source of great comfort to both of us. John's death was very sad but my grief was lessened by the way he died: I only wish he had been able to die in the same peaceful and dignified way at home in Milton Keynes after discussing the matter with his sympathetic GP.
It seems extraordinary to me that as a nation we operate on a moral double standard. If our pets are hopelessly ill we have them put down to save them from pain and call that humane. If however our nearest and dearest are terminally ill and writhing in an agony that drugs cannot help any more, we allow the law to insist that we do nothing.
Nobody asks to be born. Life is thrust upon us. Who are you to try and force me to stay if I'm suffering at the end of my life?
I support Dignity in Dying because I saw my father die in so much pain and have since heard a retired palliative care doctor say that while the law is as it is, doctors can't assist patients to die however huge the pain, because it is a choice between feeding their families or going to prison.
During my life as a surgeon I have come across mentally competent, terminally ill patients who would have welcomed the option of being able to choose the timing and circumstances of their death. I believe the legalisation of assisted dying is important for those who, like me, wish to have this degree of control over their final days.
I support Dignity in Dying because anybody who respects dignity in life has to respect it in death. This is not the case now and I hope through my involvement with Dignity in Dying we will see progress in the coming years. I will do all I can to make this happen.
I believe that decisions about the timing and manner of death belong to the individual as a human right. This is especially relevant in cases of terminal illness, painful or undignified unrelievable illness, exhausting old age, and other circumstances where an individual might wish to make the autonomous decision to end his or her life. I further believe that it is wrong to withhold medical methods of terminating life painlessly and swiftly when an individual requests them on the basis of a rational and clear-minded sustained wish to end his or her life.
Dignity in Dying is hugely important. We should all be given the right to choose how we deal with the close of our lives.
Over many years, I have become convinced of the need for a change in the law to protect people with terminal illness who have made the painful decision to seek help in dying. No-one should ever be forced or pressured into a death they do not want; but all of us should have a real choice. This is why, once I left government, I joined Dignity in Dying and will go on supporting their campaign until we succeed.
I wish to be treated as a responsible adult and believe that people should be legally able to register their wish for an assistance with suicide, if needed. I support Dignity in Dying primarily to help change the law on assisted suicide.
Respect for people's freedom to choose is reflected in our abortion laws and civil partnerships. Respect for people's choice on the ending of their life should be included too. As a medical social worker I witnessed too much quite unnecessary pain and suffering- that is why I support Dignity in Dying. The nation needs a safe, regulated system that takes the pressure off family and medical staff.
I support Dignity in Dying because I care about suffering and want the law changed so that those who presently suffer terrible deaths will in future have the option to end their suffering through ending their lives at a time and in the manner of their choice.
Having been a member of Dignity in Dying for thirty years I fully support the campaign to ensure that all people have, what they consider to be, a good death. Advance decisions are an important way of making sure our choices at the end of our lives are carried out. The campaign to change the law to allow assisted dying for terminally ill adults is also necessary, as sadly for some people palliative care is not enough, and for those few the option of an assisted death at the end of their lives would provide the choice and control we all deserve.
Miriam died of cancer in hospital in May 2011.
In November 2010 I accompanied my ex-wife - and friend - Allyson, to Dignitas in Switzerland. She had been fighting with MS for many years, her life had been reduced to one of pain and helplessness, with the prognosis only of further, inexorable decline, and she had had enough. I wrote a play about her and the journey, and called it "An Instinct For Kindness". Allyson considered that ending her life at the time of her own choosing as an affirmation of her right to take control when all other control was slipping away. It was a dignified ending, as dignified as so sad a thing as dying might ever be. What was not dignified was the process of getting to Switzerland; the bureaucratic, logistical, financial, stressful, shame-laden and secretive hoops to jump through. Bad enough to suffer from MS and for there to be no cure; worse for it to take such a hold that this once feisty, vibrant woman preferred to die, rather than struggle further; but to be made to suffer afresh because of a law which refuses to acknowledge a person's right to decide his or her fate: that, my friends, is simply cruel. Allyson would have given anything to have been allowed to die at home in her bed, surrounded by family and loving friends. But it was not to be. The law must be changed - it will be changed: there is a groundswell of public opinion in favour of change, behind which our cowardly legislators are lagging shamefully. I fully support Dignity in Dying in its campaign.
My brother died an unnecessarily painful and protracted death. I would prefer to see patients lawfully able to end their own lives with a doctor's help, but, in the absence of that, surely doctors should be unafraid of administering enough morphine to alleviate pain.
My work as a cancer physician inevitably brought me into contact with dying people. I saw how essential it is to patients themselves and to surviving families, especially children, that death was dignified with a sense of safety and control. I think that assisted dying is an important choice to be offered in the rare situations where doctors are unable to control unbearable symptoms.
The issue is not really of death but of how you live out that last chapter, those last sentences. To do it calmly with all the people around you that have mattered and you love, in familiar surroundings should be a wonderful thing. Not to be writhing on a hospital bed or sitting glumly several hundred miles away from home.
As a GP for almost 40 years and now as a patient with pancreatic cancer I feel strongly that assisted dying should be part of good palliative care for those who are terminally ill.
Ann sadly died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday 28 May 2011.
My husband George died at home and pain free. If he had suffered at the end of his life and wanted an assisted death I would have gladly accompanied him to Switzerland. I knew that and he knew that. He trusted me. That option is open for me as well because I have the friends who would assist me and enough money to pay for it. Until the law is changed to allow safe assisted dying in the UK, that isn't an option for everyone. Some people don't have loved ones willing to help, and many people don't have the resources to go. That is why I support Dignity in Dying and the campaign to change the law to allow assisted dying here in the UK.
I believe that the exercise of free will concerning the end of life, and the timing of the end of life, is an essential human freedom. I believe that while religious dogma may dictate or limit the choice of believers it should not be imposed on others. I support moves to create suitable laws so that terminally ill men and women who wish to may end their lives with dignity, rather than being kept alive against their will. I acknowledge the many challenges around legislating on these matters but feel that the proposals put forward by Dignity in Dying are sensible, sensitive and workable.
In this country we turn a blind eye to back-street suicide and mercy killing, thinking it helps people with terminal illnesses achieve the peace they deserve. Without legal safeguards there is little protection for vulnerable people. Far better to bring assisted dying into the open where we can make sure it is the patient's choice, and provide for a dignified death with proper medical assistance.
My mother went to prison for helping her terminally ill friend, who had nowhere else to turn, to end her own life. I know the whole area is a legal minefield and we need to ensure that those who are vulnerable are protected, but surely there's a more humane way we can start to address the issue of assisted dying, and that's why I support the work of Dignity in Dying.
When I was a medical student in the late 1940s the moral stance on assisted dying favoured by my teachers was that of Lord Dawson of Penn who in 1936 "eased the death" of King George V by injecting a lethal mixture of drugs into his jugular vein. Later that year when a Bill enabling euthanasia was defeated in the Lords, Dawson was one of its most vigorous opponents arguing that legislation was unnecessary because "good doctors" already helped their patients to die.
Today, Dawson's parentalism is unacceptable and strict observance of the law can subject hospital patients near to death to an attenuated process of resisted rather than assisted dying.
My wife was one of many who had the mode of dying she most feared forced upon her. During the 50 years we shared our lives, she often made me promise to protect her from it. I tried to reassure her with talk of palliative care but, at the moment of truth, all I could do was pass on her wishes to hospital doctors who had no legal way to implement them. Having witnessed her cruel undignified death, I will never lose the feeling I betrayed her.
Compassionate doctors still break the law to honour patients' wishes, if they can do so surreptitiously. The decision should not be theirs. We need to reform the law to give everybody more choice and greater control at the end of their lives.
I have been a supporter of Dignity in Dying since my mother, Dr Anne Turner, chose to have an assisted death in 2006 at Dignitas in Zurich. She had been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and had witnessed the dreadful suffering and death of my father from a similar degenerative neurological illness. She was adamant that she did not want to endure the inevitable debilitation and suffering that the illness would bring, so after a failed suicide attempt at home decided that the only option was to go to Dignitas. As she was terrified that she would not be physically fit enough to travel, she died whilst she still had some quality of life left. My brother, sister and I were to accompany her to Dignitas and my mother was frightened that we could face prosecution under the Suicide Act.
I think that society needs to show compassion to terminally ill people who face terrible suffering before their death, by giving them the option for an assisted death before that suffering becomes unbearable. Once my mother had been accepted for an assisted death, she was able to enjoy her life for the remaining time she had, greatly reassured that she would be spared further suffering.
I endorse the work of Dignity in Dying because I believe passionately that any individual should have the right to choose, as far as it is possible, the time and the conditions of their death. Over the last hundred years we have learned to be extremely good at living. But sooner or later, and so often now it is later, everybody dies. I think it's time we learned to be as good at dying as we are at living.
As someone who helped her son to die when he could no longer face the suffering caused by Huntington's disease, I understand fully the need to have a safe, regulated Right to Die system that takes the pressure off family. After all, who would let their loved ones die alone? In my case this meant an appearance in court and a criminal conviction. It is vital that Advance Decisions are made and people are listened to when they wish to have a good and dignified death.
My wife, Diane Pretty, had the terminal illness motor neurone disease and wanted to receive medical assistance to die with dignity before she had to endure the distressing symptoms encountered during the last days of the illness. As this is currently against the law in the UK, Diane asked the courts and the Government to allow her this basic human right. All refused. During the last weeks of her life, Diane was in considerable pain and distress. The very things she did not want to experience. I can honestly say I would not wish to see anyone else go through the same as her. As a result of these experiences, I firmly believe that the law in the UK should be changed to allow terminally ill mentally competent adults to be allowed medical assistance to die if it is at their own persistent request.
As a minister of religion I have seen so much needless suffering by those who are dying and so much anguish by relatives looking on?as a result of which I believe that we need to give people the option to bring matters to an end earlier and in their own time.
In the past I was hesitant to support assisted death because of the 'thin end of the wedge' argument and possible dangers of unscrupulous relatives pressurising people into early deaths for reasons of convenience or financial gain - but I have been impressed by the safeguards that are now being proposed
Ethical judgement, like life itself, is inevitably on a slippery slope; very few important moral dilemmas are simply a binary choice between right and wrong. So much depends on context. The old assumptions that life is sacred was never adhered to when it came to warfare or criminal retribution and was at best be a shorthand. Now that we know so much about the biochemistry and evolution of life itself the issues of life and non-life deserve nuanced consideration. I reject dichotomies such as: life must be preserved at all costs and death is never to be hastened. I believe it is right to strive to find better options, but when the alternatives have run out it must surely be wrong for society to insist that people suffer so we can have an easy conscience.
Time and again , I have observed how the existence of options in our everyday lives enriches us and minimizes a sense of impotence. This is nowhere more true or more necessary than when we move towards the end of our lives, when a sense of powerlessness adds a bigger burden than ever before.
Dealing with difficulties is no place for deference, I have argued
for its eradication all of my professional life and my voice has never been louder than now. Dignity in dying is our right and it belongs not just to us but also to all our loving witnesses. For this reason, I pledge my strongest to this cause, to a new emancipation.
I believe that society and science has progressed enough to allow anyone to make a choice about the way they choose to end their life and the way in which they choose to do it.
A constant, reasoned and open debate on the issue is necessary to make the most fundamental issues of how we live and die, protective, protected and just; both for individuals, for their loved ones and for those who work in the medical and care professions.
The work that DiD carry out is vital to bring about a clearer understanding of what could be and should be, the way that Britain deals with the rights we have when we choose to end our lives.
I think a change in the law legalising assisted dying is urgently required. There is much suffering going on because no such law exists - suffering in both terminally ill people and those suffering with degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's for example. While there is some controversy about whether assisted dying should and could be available to those with diminishing capacity, most people believe that assisted dying should be available to terminally ill, mentally competent adults - and I fully support Dignity in Dying in making this a reality.
We have no control over how we arrive in the world, but at the end of a life we should have legal control over how we leave it.
I once shot at a pigeon when I was a child, and its agony is seared to this day on my memory as it flailed about, hurt and unmendable. In tears, I simply had to find the courage to put it out of its misery. How much more unbearable to watch another human being in unmendable pain, and worse still, someone you know and love. We have the means to make the end of a person's life peaceful and dignified, and it's high time the law found its way to allowing this mercy to be made legal, with upfront safeguards. Faith should not be an argument against, because faith is unarguable-with. Anyway, I daresay there are very many people with faith who do support a compassionate change in the law. The Director of Public Prosecutions has done all he can to clarify the existing law, so the next step is a safeguarded assisted dying law so that Britain can enter a grown-up world where the science of medicine - ever evolving and improving its expertise - need not continue to prolong a life that desires only peace.
After many debates with myself, and with others (particularly when I was Chair of the Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians) I am entirely persuaded of the ethical case for giving people the right to seek assistance in dying when they have a terminal illness with symptoms that are both unbearable and unable to be alleviated by good care. As a doctor for over 35 years, I became increasingly aware of the failure of even the best care to deal with the suffering of some patients. International experience has convinced me that the availability of assisted dying not only benefits the small number of people who will avail themselves of it but will drive improvements in all aspects of end-of-life care. The present clinical, ethical, and legal fudge - and a law which is discredited in practice - is dangerous for patients and also for professionals.
Being incapable of helping a loved one to die when they are at the end of their life, suffering and asking for help is undignified and wrong, and I know this having witnessed it myself at close hand. I fully support the work of Dignity in Dying to both change the law to allow assisted dying in this country and to provide advance decisions so that people can take control over the decisions they would make at the end of their lives if they find themselves unable to do so.
Thank God, we are finally seeing a change to the way in which assisted dying is being considered.
We live in a free society with all the choices that go with it. We choose when to marry, have children, what treatment we should have, where to live, who to consult for advice, in fact how we should live our lives. This should include the opportunity to choose the time we die. I truly believe that when the moment comes we should all be permitted to elect the moment that we will leave this earth. I would like to think that when that time comes for us all we depart feeling that the moment is right, defined and empowering. Ending one's life is, for some people who are suffering at the end of their lives, the greatest and most powerful action they could take. Where all other avenues have been checked, rechecked and deliberated on and the outcome cannot be changed then the finality of death should be taken on our terms.
It is because we believe in the dignity and value of life that we hope for a good death. This is what Dignity in Dying hopes to permit and I passionately support its aims. To linger on against my will on a half-life is no life at all. It is death-in-life. In the past when the natural end had come we were delivered by pneumonia. No such luck today. For myself and for any whom I love I want the legal option to recognize that the natural end has come and merely do by pharmaceutical means what in the past would have been effected by merciful mother nature.
Professor Lewis Wolpert I
strongly support Dignity in Dying since having watched my wife die in
pain from cancer without any hope that she could be cured. It is for me a
fundamental human right that we should be able to have our life
peacefully ended when there is no longer any hope of recovery. There is
no justification for a painful and tortured ending.
Sir Christopher Woodhead
'I support Dignity in Dying because knowing the choice of an assisted death were an option for me would make me a great deal more comfortable about the future. The problem with MND is that it just gets worse, which means everything becomes a matter of timing. If I knew that the choice of an assisted death at home was a reality it would bring me great comfort and happiness.'
From personal experience I have seen how difficult things can get when those close to us are looking towards the end of their lives, ravaged by disease. Having seen my father die in this way it became very clear to me that we as society need to grasp the nettle and deal with this contentious issue in a way that is humane and acceptable to the majority of right thinking people. I believe in personal freedom to chose - a freedom currently being denied the people of this country. We need a compassionate assisted dying law to enable competent adults to choose help to die if their suffering is unbearable as their lives are coming to an end.