'He wanted to go': Wife of man who died of cancer backs assisted dying bill in Scotland

While this isn't the first attempt to introduce assisted dying in Scotland, campaigners feel a change in the public mood could lead to a change in the law, ITV News's Louise Scott reports

When Valerie Fischbacher's husband was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer in September 2023, she never anticipated the level of pain and suffering that was to follow.

She never imagined her usually fit and active husband pleading with her to end his pain.

Valerie and Graham met later in life, but within the year they were married.

Valerie told ITV News: "Graham was absolutely enjoying life before his diagnosis. He was an active cyclist, he loved his paddle boarding, he was part of the German speaking group.

"We’d been together eight years and married for seven, I just wish it had been longer."

In summer 2023, Graham stumbled while leaving their house in Callander, Scotland. He felt a pain in his back and believed he'd strained it so underwent physiotherapy.

But despite following the rehabilitation exercises, the pain continued and Valerie became concerned when he also began to lose weight.

They went to the doctor who referred Graham for an MRI scan, which brought with it awful news.

Valarie and Graham Fischbacher Credit: ITV News

Valerie said: "It showed he had a broken vertebrae, he’d actually broken his back. He also had a tumour in the distal end of his oesophagus and it had spread to his lymph nodes and bones as well by that time.

"We were shocked and horrified really.

"It was a young doctor that came up and said because the MRI showed the dark patch, they wouldn’t do a big spinal operation if he only had six months to live.

"He said: ‘I’m not saying you’ve only got six months to live, but for instance if you have a limited time to live they wouldn’t put you through the pain of a spinal operation.’"

Graham was given a terminal diagnosis and after feeling ill with chemotherapy, he decided to try to enjoy the time he had left instead of more grueling treatment.

Valerie said: "He came home and we tried to manage his pain levels with help from the local hospice, but his pain levels were extreme.

"He would wake up absolutely screaming in pain, crying in pain and I would have to phone the palliative care group and nurses. But that would take an hour, so he’d be in pain crying and screaming. It was just horrific, and I couldn’t even comfort him.

"I couldn’t stroke his back or hold his hand because it was all to do with the nerves. He’d say: ‘don’t touch me, don’t touch me’. Sometimes I just went in to the other room and covered my ears and just wept."

This cycle continued for four weeks, until it was decided that Graham would be moved to the hospice to help manage his pain in October 2023. But Valerie says pain management was never fully achieved.

Valerie explained how Graham felt about the pain he was suffering: "He said ‘I cannot take this anymore, I cannot take this anymore’.

Valerie says her husband 'wanted to go'. Credit: ITV News

"In fact, when the consultant first came to him in the hospice, she said, ‘what can I do for you’ and he said ‘send me to Dignitas’.

"He wanted to go; he didn’t want this pain anymore. He just wanted it to be over as quick as possible."

Valerie supports the Assisted Dying Bill that was presented to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

The proposals would enable mentally competent adults with a terminal illness to be legally provided with assistance to end their lives if they wish to do so.

Having experienced family members who were diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, the Bill was something she previously had supported.

She thought her husband's terminal diagnosis may have changed her mind, instead it strengthened her feelings on the subject.

Talking about what it was like to watch her husband suffer, Valerie said: "They were just prolonging his pain.

"As far as I can see it, the medical world is just prolonging life, you haven’t got any quality of life.

"It doesn’t seem fair, and I’m sure in 50 year's time we won’t believe that we did this to people."

Graham died aged 70 in January - just four months after his diagnosis.

More than three-quarters of Scots are in favour of assisted dying legislation, a poll has found.

A survey by campaign group Dignity in Dying found at least a two-thirds majority in every constituency and region in Scotland, with a 78% average overall support.

But both First Minister Humza Yousaf and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar have expressed concerns about the Bill, which was introduced in Holyrood today.

The legislation is expected to be voted on sometime next year.

How an assisted dying model could work in Scotland

Liam McArthur told Scotland's Parliament on Thursday that he was "confident" members will back his legislation, insisting the bill contains "robust safeguards".

The Liberal Democrat said MSPs will “want to look closely at the detail and consider the compelling evidence supporting a change in the law”.

However, he added: “I’m confident Parliament will back my proposals to give terminally ill adults the choice they need.” His Bill sets out plans to give people over the age of 16 with an advanced terminal illness the option of requesting an assisted death. They would have to have the mental capacity to make such a request, which would have to be made voluntarily without them being coerced. Two doctors would have to be satisfied of the patient’s condition, and also that they have not been pressurised into their decision.

Only people who have lived in Scotland for at least a year would be allowed to make such a request. The Bill also sets out a mandatory 14-day “reflection” period between a qualifying patient making a request and being given the necessary medication. At this point, a medical professional would make a final check on the patient’s capacity.

Valerie knows there will be much opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill but she hopes people can understand both sides of the debate.

She added: "I just wish they could see themselves in that position or imagine a loved one in that position, suffering so much.

"They’re terminally ill, so this isn’t going to kill more people, this is people who are dying anyway but they’d be dying in more comfortable circumstances. I think they should try an understand it from that point of view."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has committed to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying in the next parliament Credit: Ian West/PA

Assisted suicide is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

In Scotland, it is not a specific criminal offence but assisting the death of someone can leave a person open to being charged with murder or other offences.

Calls are also being made for a change in the law south of the Scottish border.

Last year the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said he would support assisted dying if a bill was brought to the UK parliament.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also recently said that he would respect parliament’s decision if it chooses to legalise the practice.

Both leaders suggested a change would have to come about via a free vote on a private members’ bill, brought forward by a backbench MP.

The last time the House of Commons voted on assisted dying was in 2015, when it was defeated by two to one.

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