Having lost her case in the High Court I wasn’t expecting her to win in the House of Lords, but Debbie approached the day with her usual unwavering optimism and positivity. She had faith that common sense and compassion would rule the day – and she was right. Three years ago today she was granted the clarity she needed to be able to get on with enjoying the rest of her life, knowing that once the guidelines promised by her legal victory were published she would be clear about what was likely to happen if she asked a loved one to help her to die.
In no time at all Debbie had vowed to continue to campaign so that people didn’t have to travel abroad to die, or ask their loved ones to help them, and she continues to fight for the choice for all of us, when we are facing the end of our lives, to have the option of an assisted death.
I look back on the last three years with mixed emotions. The campaign has made incredible progress. Since Debbie’s House of Lords victory we have seen the Director of Public Prosecutions publish guidance; giving peace of mind to many people that if a loved one compassionately assists them to die at their request they will not be prosecuted. In Spring of this year these guidelines were unanimously endorsed by the House of Commons. We have also seen a Commission of experts investigate if and how an assisted dying law could work in the UK. They not only found that it could work, but that a safeguarded assisted dying law would better protect people than the current law does. We have also seen the formation of a growing number of healthcare professionals unwilling to be silent about their support of a change in the law – challenging the negative stances of the Royal Colleges and calling for neutrality. We are now in the midst of a consultation on a draft assisted dying Bill – the result of which is likely to be tabled in the House of Lords in the New Year. However, among the campaign’s victories have been some very sad days. The two that stick out in my mind are the death at Dignitas of Geraldine McClelland, and the death of Dr Ann McPherson, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.
While Geraldine (Mo) was resolute that she would be in control of her end of life, and ultimately did have the death she chose in Switzerland, she would have much preferred to die at home, surrounded by her family and without having to put them through the fourteen hour car journey to Zurich and the stress of potential prosecution on their return. Dr Ann McPherson had been vocal about the death she didn’t want – wasting away in pain that couldn’t be controlled, and sadly that’s exactly the death she experienced at home in May 2011.
The campaign is making progress, and gaining momentum ahead of what looks to be a very exciting year, but people continue to suffer unbearably against their wishes at the end of life, and dying Britons are still forced to travel abroad to die if they want to choose an assisted death.
Today is a day to look back and be proud of all of those who have made the campaign’s recent successes possible, in particular the incredibly courageous and wonderful Debbie Purdy, but also a day to remember how our law is failing and has failed so many dying adults, and to ensure that we are all doing everything we can to make our voices heard. The current situation is not acceptable, and is not sustainable. I can say on behalf of Debbie and all at Dignity in Dying that we will not stop fighting until terminally ill, mentally competent adults have the choice of an assisted death.