We should all have the right to die with dignity

YOU may well wonder why we need to legalise euthanasia in the UK when some NHS hospitals have already been doing the job for themselves.

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Coronation Street brought euthanasia to public attention with the storyline of Hayley's decision to take her own life to escape inoperable pancreatic cancer
Coronation Street brought euthanasia to public attention with the storyline of Hayley's decision to take her own life to escape inoperable pancreatic cancer

More than two thirds of Scots, 69%, support the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill being put forward at Holyrood by redoubtable independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

You'll find similar support in England, where a bill is going through the Lords, but unlike our neighbours we have no crime of suicide or assisted suicide in Scotland.

Helping someone take their own life could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide, but the Crown Office has so far been reluctant to act.

No, the crime is in condemning your terminally ill relative against their will to suffer a lingering, excruciating and inhumane end.

The crime is in requiring them, or at least those who can afford it, to leave their homes and their country to find a dignified departure in the middle of an industrial estate in Switzerland.

Modern medical science has become a double-edged sword.

Drugs and techniques have been developed to combat conditions, which were once certain killers, but they also now extend the lives of our loved ones without any distinction between quality of life and a living hell.

It's heartbreaking seeing needles and drips being stuck in someone's dying granny when she is clearly suffering and in distress.

They have, if they wish, the right to die in comfort and avoid having to endure an agonising end.

Believe me, my baby boomers generation will want a say in how we pop our clogs, particularly as even more of us - or at least those who have not overdosed on fat and sugar and booze - are predicted to live into our 90s.

Personally, I have no wish for my family to watch me gibbering and demented and soiling my nappy every day until the lingering, bitter end.

If I stood by and watched our cat Molly suffer an agonising death, without seeking the intervention of our vet Ronan, I'd justifiably be locked up.

So I'll opt for the cat nap, if you please.

Of course, political and religious leaders are ignoring the public in this national debate. Well, haven't they always known what's best for us?

But last week's poll backing Margo MacDonald's bill, and the effect Hayley Cropper's Coronation Street suicide had on the masses, shows they are as ever swimming against the tide of public opinion.

Fact is, they have long since lost the right to claim the moral high ground.

LAST year, a poll among Brits who follow a religious faith found 82% agreed that an "individual has the right to choose when and how to die".

Some 70% backed a change in the law, with 16% opposing it. Even among Roman Catholics, 56% supported a change.

If religious leaders, of any and every dogma, wish their committed believers to place assisted suicide alongside contraception, organ donation, abortion, and gay marriage - meaning not for them, thank you very much - then I will defend their right to make that choice.

But they have no mandate to speak for the rest of us, or dictate how we should lead or end our lives.

The same goes for politicians. We elect them to carry out our wishes, not to be our moral guardians (and there's a joke).

Margo MacDonald's first attempt in 2010 to change the law resulted in a free vote among Holyrood MSPs and government ministers, with no party political obligation. It was meant to be a conscience vote.

It was defeated 85-16 but in all conscience it was not how their constituents would have wished them to vote.

I appreciate there are genuine fears that assisted suicide could lead to misuse and abuse.

Neglect of our elderly is already rife — in and out of NHS care — and organisations representing people with disabilities fear it's a slippery slope that will leave them feeling vulnerable.

And when the role and influence of doctors in any life or death process is discussed, it's inevitable there will be the usual scare stories citing the ghost of Dr Harold Shipman.

Critics of assisted suicide would prefer better palliative care to improve the quality of life for terminally ill patients, and that's a stance I wholeheartedly support, but they are missing the point.

Most families have had loved ones who suffered needlessly for years, ending in slow, often painful, always undignified death.

They don't want to suffer the same fate themselves and where, for instance, they have made living wills stating exactly that wish, it should be honoured.

Surely it is not beyond the wit of our leaders and lawmakers to devise safeguards to guarantee just that?

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