I have Motor Neurone Disease. I was diagnosed five years ago, aged 47 and I am one of the lucky ones. My prognosis was a little over a year. I am still here, having received excellent care, and I love the life I share with my wife and two children. But there may well come a time when this disease becomes more than I am willing to bear, and if that time comes I will have to face some difficult decisions.
I was recently part of a legal challenge with Dignity in Dying, asking for greater clarity on what my doctors can do to support me to have the death I would choose. We should find out in the next few months whether we have been successful, and success could provide some comfort to people facing the end of their lives. It won’t change the law though, and what would give me the greatest comfort would be knowing that I had the choice of an assisted death, at home and surrounded by my loved ones. As that choice is not available to me at the moment, and perhaps won’t be in my lifetime, I may have to consider other options as Hayley will do tonight.
In the past week this storyline has created front pages and numerous headlines, and Julie Hesmondhalgh who plays Hayley has welcomed the conversation that this storyline is creating, and so do I. It makes my situation less isolating. We know that one Briton per fortnight is travelling abroad to die at Dignitas in Switzerland. We know that some dying people are taking the decision to stop eating and drinking in order to have some control over their death, and we know that although Hayley’s situation is fictional, sadly, people are taking the same decisions behind closed doors in the absence of any other real choice.
This year will be important for this debate and the campaign for more choice at the end of life. In the summer the House of Lords will be in the position to change things for people in my position. Lord Falconer will be introducing a bill which could legalise safeguarded assisted dying in the UK so that competent dying people no longer have to travel abroad to have what they consider to be a good death, or take matters into their own hands behind closed doors.
I have no doubt I, along with many others, will find tonight’s Coronation Street difficult to watch, but I hope it contributes towards the change we so desperately need to see in this country to allow dying people more choice and control at the end of their lives.