Sir Patrick Stewart: 'Assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all'

Writing for ITV News, actor Sir Patrick Stewart says Bob Cole's death shows why assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all.

He is a campaigner for Dignity in Dying.

I had always been a supporter of assisted dying, but I became a campaigner after a horrifying event.

My life-long friend’s wife was diagnosed with a serious terminal illness, and she was one of the people in this country for whom palliative care could not help.

In considerable pain she decided to end her life using a stockpile of opiates. But she didn’t die.

Taken to the hospital she was kept alive and eventually returned home, a sense of regret not at her decision, but its outcome.

Her mind was clearly made up – she was mentally competent, and her death was inevitable. She knew she wanted to end it and the pain she must have endured I can’t imagine.

Shortly after returning home she asked her husband - my friend - to walk the dog one night. Insisting that she would be OK for 15 minutes, he left and did as she asked. During that time she put a plastic bag over her head, and knotted the strings. This time, she died.

When I heard the news, and the circumstances around her death, I couldn’t comprehend the horror of what she must have experienced. I still can’t.

And now another person has been forced to take drastic measures to control their own inevitable death.

Bob Cole, like myself, was a campaigner with Dignity in Dying.

We were together at the demonstration outside parliament when the Assisted Dying Bill was being debated in the House of Lords.

He also had a personal story for supporting the campaign having accompanied his wife to Dignitas last year.

Then in a cruel twist of fate he also became terminally ill only a short time after he accompanied his wife.

He has now made the same journey, in excruciating pain, to have the same control. How can we, as a civilised society, allow this to happen? Currently we force people to suffer against their wishes, and use the force of the law to threaten those who would help their family and friends if asked to assist in a death.

Assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all. We must be free from torture and suffering, we must have the freedom to choose for ourselves. We have no choice about how and when we come into this word, but it seems that we should be able to have a choice in how we leave it if our death is fast approaching.

We have one of the finest palliative care systems in the world, but unfortunately this does not mean that everyone will have a painless death.

It is telling that in the jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal, such as Oregon in the United States, legal assisted dying works safely. In fact the Oregon Hospice Association stated that the law had not negatively affected palliative care ten years after it came into force.

Since becoming a campaigner I have met many fellow travellers along the way.

From Sir Terry Pratchett who sadly died this year, to former Archbishop George Carey who has been tremendous in putting forward the Christian reasons for supporting a change in the law.

An overwhelming majority of the British public support assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent people and it is their voice and campaigning that will ultimately give people dignity in dying.

It is clear the current law is broken and needs fixing. Parliament has the opportunity to do soon on September 11 when a new Assisted Dying Bill will be debated and it is crucial for everyone who supports to make their views known.

Bob Cole’s bravery is astonishing. In speaking out about his decision and why he had to leave his home he has shown the stark reality of the current situation.

I would implore everyone to listen to what he had to say. I hope that his story, my friend’s, and the countless others that we have heard over the years are heeded by those who have the power to put it right.

  • Sir Patrick Stewart's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News