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A letter to Matt Hancock

Rebecca Drury has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about her experience and desire to see the law change.

Dear Mr Hancock,

I am a 53 year old woman living with two of the most painful cancers one can have. I have pleural cancer which attaches to the lining of the lungs and causes unimaginable pain. And, just three weeks ago, I was told that it has spread to my rib, so I now have bone cancer too.

I used to be a dance teacher and a very active, sociable person before being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. I have had two major surgeries on my left lung and pleura. The second operation cut open and took away two parts of ribs 7 and 8 in order to remove a tumour from the pleura, which left me in agonising pain. I have been given the all-clear twice over the past few years, but the cancer has returned. At the start of 2020 I was told that it was incurable, and that if I didn’t have treatment, I would likely only have a year to live.

I feel I am now living from one dose of painkilling meds to another; I’ve been given radiotherapy to ease the pain but it has had only limited success. I have zero quality of life and my health is not going to get any better. Not only do I live with the pain, I also wake up every day feeling terrified about the agonising future that awaits me.

I have looked into Dignitas but the process is rigorous, time-consuming and would require a huge amount of energy, which I do not have. I don’t have anyone who could help me with the paperwork and in any case, they would be risking potential prosecution for assisting me. I can’t afford the costs either – I am a single woman, currently living on disability allowance. Furthermore, the journey would be too painful. I can barely tolerate ten miles in a car. Currently I can walk unaided but I fear that may be taken away from me by this awful disease eventually.

It is my wish to die when I choose, at home surrounded by my loved ones.

I do not want to face a death which is prolonged and agonising. I simply cannot face it.

I don’t want to be stuffed full of drugs and tubes, sedated so I am barely aware. My only option will be suicide at the end but I’m terrified of what might happen if the attempt goes wrong. Why should I have to deal with that fear too? The UK’s law is inhumane.

Those who oppose a change in the law, for instance the religious minority who feel it is not God’s will to give me this choice, are clearly not in the unenviable position of being in excruciating pain every day. I assure you, if they lived in my body, they would change their minds like a shot. It is not their right to make these rules. They cannot make these judgements without having walked in the shoes of someone in agonising pain every day.

I am a spiritual person and I know many people of faith feel the same. Archbishop Tutu and Lord Carey both agree that allowing people at the end of their lives the choice of assisted dying is right and just. I want a beautiful death, on my own terms – I feel that would honour my faith and respect a higher power.

The option that I and so many terminally ill people want is already legal in many places in the USA, in Australia and will soon be across New Zealand. It’s not fair that our wonderful country lags behind.

We should be at the forefront of palliative care with assisted dying as an additional option for those who want it. This could be this Government’s legacy.

I am grateful that you are open to having this debate, informed by the best evidence. Part of that evidence should be the experiences of people like me. I hope you will support a change in the law that so many people in my position are desperate for. I fear I will need it soon; there is truly no time to lose.

Yours sincerely,

Rebecca Drury