It is with much sadness, but with many fond memories, that I remember my friend Christine Jackson. Christine passed away recently, aged 71, as a result of breast cancer.
I met Christine when she was Head of Research at the Equal Opportunities Commission, where she had taken on a fledgling department and grown it to produce superb, wide-ranging research which influenced agendas for many years. We developed a close friendship which lasted 30 years. I didn’t know it then, but we shared a passionate belief that dying people should be allowed, in law, the choice to control the manner and timing of their death.
Throughout her life Christine was a vigorous advocate for civil liberties. In her youth she was a volunteer for the National Council for Civil Liberties (now known as Liberty). This commitment continued throughout her life, and she ultimately took on roles as a Board member and Chair of the Civil Liberties Trust. She threw herself with enormous energy into work in so many different areas; she chaired an NHS Health Trust, was on the Board of Sheffield Theatres, sat on the Bar Council’s Disciplinary Committee and conducted Humanist funerals. She was vibrantly healthy, had great physical and emotional stamina, a wicked sense of humour, and an enormous capacity for friendship. Christine was an inspiration to hundreds of individuals in all aspects of their lives.
It was Christine’s cancer that led her to seriously contemplate the kinds of choices that are available for dying people. She went through successful treatment for breast cancer but 16 years later, early in 2010, it returned, this time in her bones and liver. She lived with this cancer with energy and spirit, continuing her life at a pace that few others could match.
In 2011 Christine decided to share her story and speak out for the campaign for Dignity in Dying. I recall her debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali. As was typical of Christine she combined her calm and rational analysis of a complex ethical issue with the powerful arguments of an astute and formidable campaigner. She said:
“I would like to control how and when and particularly where I die…It saddens me that people have to go to such lengths to have a peaceful death.”
Our work to achieve this is a great tribute to Christine and to others like her.