Like many people, I think I become more aware of the need for charity at Christmas time.
I support charities year round. Don’t get me wrong, I think the very fact that charity has to even exist is abhorrent. Avoidable disasters like Grenfell; disasters the government should be paying for – people run the London marathon for charity. Illnesses like cancer (which I believe there is a cure for…whole other post) – people running around local parks in a pink tutu raising cash for “research”.
I’ve posted my opinions on charity before. The government wastes thousands on crap like Brexit (also posted about this before) but expects the public to pick up the tab for REALLY IMPORTANT SCHIZZLE.
Anyway, this wasn’t a post to promote previous posts! Or to lambast the government (OK, maybe a little bit). It was to talk about charity at Christmas.
Back to the first paragraph
I am a regular charity supporter. It makes me feel good about myself (sorry, not sorry), and I hope the money goes where it should. But something about Christmas makes me extra generous. Especially to those in society who don’t enjoy Christmas in the same way as me. Last year I did a reverse advent calendar and donated food stuffs to charity. I’ve done the same this year (not the advent calendar, but a supermarket basket full of food in the local food bank collection).
One of my new colleagues (still bleating about having a new job, whatcha gonna do?) came to the office with some present tags from charity KidsOut. Her son goes to a local day nursery and they were supporting the charity. There are a mix of tags. Some show just an age and gender, some show an age and gift request, and others show a name and preferred present. KidsOut is a charity supporting children affected by domestic violence; many of whom will have escaped a violent home with a parent and have no presents to open.
My tag was for an 11 year old boy who requested a diablo. What with me being old, I thought this was a technological present I had never heard of. Imagine my surprise when I googled it (don’t judge me) to find it’s an old school toy made of wood and string!
I couldn’t resist bringing it into the 21st century (and to make that boy the envy of his friends!) so I bought a light up one that changes colour as you spin. He deserves something a little bit special, don’t you think?
Christmas happens for everyone
Back to the point of my post. Christmas happens for everyone – in varying degrees. There are people like me and the husband who have enough money to buy gifts for each other and donate to charities to help other people. There are people like the homeless who I saw on the streets where I live and gave money to yesterday. And there are children who, through no fault of their own, will wake up on Christmas morning not only without presents; but without a bed, a bedroom, clothes or their favourite teddy bear.
I’ve always been a voracious reader. Not for me a couple of pages before bed and taking weeks to finish a book. If I start a book I’m committed to it and I allow it to take over. I’m immersed in the story and the characters (assuming said book is well written) and I just NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. Many a time on holiday we’ve been later than planned for lunch or dinner because I’m reading “just one more chapter” which we all know is nothing like one chapter and probably more like four.
When I was a kid we used to go to the local public library where you could only take out six books at a time. I used to pore over the shelves, thinking how best to use my meagre allocation and, by the time we got home, I was chomping at the bit to get started. It wasn’t unusual for me to read a book in one sitting, and I’d usually have got through all of them way before it was time to go back the following week.
As an adult I read less, due to time constraints and life getting in the way, but when I do read I still do so in the same way. Nose down, devouring the pages and feeling thoroughly engaged. If we’re on a relaxing holiday I like nothing more than spending the day at the beach or by the pool with a book for company. If we’re going on a holiday where there is little relaxing time because it’s all about sightseeing, I often choose not to take a book, even for the journey, because I know it will consume my thoughts and eat into my time when I should be out looking at what the world has to offer!
When e-readers became de rigeur, I was slightly appalled (I’d hate books to become extinct) but I could see their appeal – so many books in one lightweight easy to carry place; perfect for holidays where luggage allowance is needed for shoes! And so I bought one (a Nook, now extinct as a company) and I loaded it with all manner of tomes, and I read The Great Gatsby on it the first day I got it. Ebooks were cheap and easy to download and the reader had a really long battery life but I didn’t love it. I missed the smell, and the page turning, and seeing how much book you have left. I missed physical books.
There’s always at least one book on my Christmas list, which I may or may not get round to reading immediately! I always have a pile of physical books which I haven’t yet read, collected from one source or another. But I never buy books from new myself. Being the greedy reader that I am, it’s a really expensive way of reading, when there are much more economical options.
All hail charity shops.
Charity shops are a veritable feast of books – paperback, hardback, fiction, autobiography; they have everything you can imagine. Ranging from tatty and dog-eared (well loved, as I prefer to think of them) through to like new condition, it’s a great way to bring purpose to something that’s otherwise bound for the scrap heap AND support a good cause.
I know there are purists who argue that the author is missing out because they’re not getting the royalties from a new sale. In my case that’s not true at all. I wouldn’t buy the book brand new, so they’re not losing a sale. They’re gaining an audience, and an appreciator, and potentially a recommender who will talk about their works to other people, in real life or on social media.
My most recent find is our local Acorns Childrens Hospice charity shop. I say “find”, it’s in the village where I have lived for 12 years. I’m not usually out in the village having a mooch during shop opening hours though, so I rarely go in there. 2 weeks ago I popped in and came out with a couple of books (then another 4 from Oxfam).
I started off by reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I really enjoyed. It was a very different protagonist to the usual type, and I did go through a stage a few chapters in where I didn’t like Eleanor very much and so I started to struggle with the book, but I’m glad I persevered.
Last week I went back to the charity shop and came out with 7 books! Charity shop prices for second hand books often depend on size or condition, but our local Acorns has a £1 per book policy across all paperbacks.
One of these is completely unread with not a mark on it, and I’d say all of the others have been read once and are in immaculate condition. Total value of £55.93, all for £7!
The beauty of reading this way is that you can afford to step out of your comfort zone and try a genre or author you wouldn’t usually go for, because if you don’t like it you haven’t wasted a lot of money (well technically you haven’t wasted any money, as it’s gone to a good charitable cause). Also, once you’ve finished, you can donate them back to the charity shop of your choice, thus continuing their fundraising capability.
Are you an avid reader? Do you buy pre-loved books? Let me know in the comments!
I’m not into football at all but this is a World Cup related post. Don’t worry though, it’s not about the actual tournament, and it’s certainly not in support of Russia. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway…
All this media and public excitement about the players, the opening ceremony and the matches seems to have forgotten a very important thing – Russia’s antiquated and downright disgusting approach to LGBT people. But do you know who hasn’t forgotten about it? Paddy Power! Yep, the online betting giant – a perhaps unlikely source for human rights activism – has vowed to donate £10,000 to LGBT charity Foundation (created by Attitude magazine) for every goal Russia scores!
“[To] wind up a few gammon-headed Russian homophobes – perfect”
With the 8 goals scored so far that’s already a hefty £80,000 in the donations pot, and with the home nation already through to the final 16, let’s all get behind them and hope they hit the back of the net in the quarter finals to boost Paddy Power’s contribution even further.
There’s even a super duper hashtag you can use and follow – #RainbowRussians. A little bit of genuis!
As I sat watching coverage of the London Marathon on Sunday, I was struck by how many people were running to raise money for charity, which is obviously an amazing thing to do. Charity is an important part of our society, supporting needy causes that don’t get public funding.
It started me thinking, again (I’ve been thinking this for a while), about how wrong it is that some needy causes have to be supported by charity. That there is no government money for them.
Look at Cancer Research UK, for example. 1 in 2 people are now expected to get cancer during their lifetime. Shouldn’t there be more government funding available for something that affects half the population? What about sight loss charities? People who are born blind often have to rely on donations in order to get adapted equipment for the home or work – how is that right?
The thing that really got my goat during the marathon though, was the firefighters running to raise money for the community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last year. I’d heard them interviewed on the radio on Friday, and then saw more interviews on the TV coverage. 18 firefighters who attended the fire, from North Kensington and Paddington boroughs, who’ve already done so much to rescue survivors during the disaster, were running in full gear including breathing apparatus (an additional weight of approximately 30kgs per person) in order to raise funds. But millions of charity donations already exist, and sit in the hands of the UK government who haven’t fully or correctly distributed them to survivors and those affected. Huge pots of money, donated in good faith by the British public who were saddened by the tragedy, not making the difference it should to the people who need it.
It’s morally and financially wrong.
Of course, some charities themselves are not above reprehension either. CEOs on 6 figure salaries, mismanagement of resources – it starts to add up to a really badly organised use of public cash which was donated in good faith.
Not to end on a bad note though, I salute every single person who put themself through 26.2 gruelling miles of running, in the hottest London Marathon temperatures ever recorded, to raise cash for a cause they believe in. They’re all amazing. I just hope their donations get used in the proper manner.
Last night when I got home, I found out that a friend’s brother had taken his own life on Tuesday.
This morning, a different friend saw the horrifying sight of a man hanging from a motorway bridge as he drove to work.
Only last week, 84 sculptures were revealed on top of the ITV building in London, to highlight the number of men who take their own life every week in the UK. This is part of Project84 – a campaign run by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Male suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and reports indicate this is due to social rather than biological reasons. Please make sure all the men in your life – family, friends, work colleagues – know there are people available to talk to, and that sharing their problems does not make them less masculine or reflect on their manliness in anyway.
If you are experiencing problems and suicidal thoughts; whether you’re male or female, you can contact professionals including The Samaritans.
Remember when I posted about a reverse advent calendar which I was going to be doing throughout December to donate to a local foodbank?
Yeah, failed on that one. Not that I didn’t have the food items – I went above and beyond the 24 days of Christmas and had a box full of tinned foods, biscuits and dried goods ready to help out a family in need. But time ran away with me and in between work, going away for my birthday and last minute house renovations due to late running builders I missed the bloody deadline to donate my goods.
All is not lost, however, because the nature of the items I had put together means they don’t have a short shelf life, plus less fortunate people need help all year round, not just in December. So I’ll be donating them very shortly, and continuing with my resolution to collect and donate a food parcel every month throughout 2018.
Of course there are other ways to help, and many of them are never more relevant or easy than in January when many people have received nice new stuff for Christmas and are looking to part with older items that may have been replaced.
This article from Emerald Street has some great suggestions. Getting rid of old warm coats or bedding? Homeless charities can distribute them to the needy in these cold winter months. Having a clear out of cosmetics? Women’s refuge charities are grateful for items that help women feel like women in the midst of their lives being turned upside down. They may seem like small things to you, but to people with nothing they’ll mean a lot.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the need for donations doesn’t end when Christmas, or January, is over. If you can help these organisations throughout the year they’ll be very grateful, as will the people who rely on them. Food banks often have collection points in local supermarkets, and some charities will collect items from your home or work address; so why not ask friends, family and work colleagues to all chip in and put together a big donation between a group of you.
Are you planning on doing any of these things, or other charitable help? Let me know!
I recently saw this idea posted by someone on Facebook and thought it would be a really nice way to do something to help others this Christmas.
The premise is that you get a box, and every day you put in an item of non perishable food – tinned goods, pasta, teabags; that kind of thing – and then you donate it to a food bank so it can be distributed to people who need it.
There’s a couple of impracticalities – the first being that donating it on Christmas Eve doesn’t leave enough time for it to be donated to people to eat over Christmas, and the second that a lot of people don’t go to the shops everyday to buy or put an item in the box. So I’m going to bastardise the idea a little bit, with the same result. I’m going to put together a box of items over the lead up to Christmas, and then donate it the week before so it can reach needy folk ready for the big day.
I’ve also made an early New Years resolution that I’m going to put together a box every month in 2018; helping people not just at Christmas but the whole year through. It’s a travesty that food banks need to exist, and worse that even more people are relying on them, and not just people you may expect, like those who are unemployed or unable to work. There have been news stories about nurses needing to use them to supplement their families, and that’s a shocking state of affairs. The husband and I are lucky to be in a fortunate position, and a few pounds on our shopping bill isn’t going to change our lives, but it could help someone else.
If you’re interested in doing this, I suggest looking into local causes and finding out what they need (food stuffs, personal items, etc). They’ll sometimes offer a collection service, or local supermarkets may have a donation point too. Homeless charities will be grateful for warm clothes and bedding donations, and again are often able to collect.
This is also a great idea for people with children I think, to teach kids the importance of giving, as well as receiving.
Have you ever done anything like this? Let me know your thoughts!
Today, Dignity in Dying have released their latest research into public support for a change in the law, to allow terminally ill people to choose when to end their life based on their own pain and experiences.
I’m a staunch supporter of the charity and have blogged previously about why I support them, the work they do, and why they do it. My Dad was denied the chance to go to Dignitas for a dignified end to his life on his terms, thanks to his doctor blocking access to his medical records on ethical and legal grounds. In truth, he shouldn’t have had to consider going to another country, like some kind of criminal. The option for assisted dying in his own home, surrounded by family and loved ones, should be a basic human right.
When Dad died, we asked for donations rather than flowers at his funeral. People were incredibly generous, and we were able to make a sizeable donation to Dignity in Dying, in Dad’s honour. Through this, Dad’s wife Julie started a dialogue with them around Dad’s circumstances, and they asked if she’d be interested in helping them to raise the profile of why a change in the law is needed, to which she readily agreed.
I’m so proud of Julie for getting involved and sharing her story, especially as it’s only just over a year since my Dad passed away. It’s still very raw for her, and reliving it is hard. But she feels very strongly about helping the charity and contributing to a very worthwhile cause, and wants to do whatever she can in Dad’s memory.
Such is the strength of Julie’s story, that DiD have made her the current face of their campaign. She’s on the homepage of their website, and 2 of her videos feature on the research page, alongside other people who have been in similar situations.
All we’re asking for is choice. The choice for people to live their life for as long as they are able, and the choice to end it when the pain and suffering is too much.
If you feel strongly about the right for choice and would like to support Dignity in Dying, you can make a one off donation or set up a monthly donation via the giving page on their website. You can also become a member for regular updates.
**DISCLAIMER – this post is not an attack on people who fundraise. I think they’re incredibly admirable and, without them, cancer charities would severely suffer**
I have a bee in my bonnet. It’s about the way fund raising for cancer charities is portrayed in the media.
First of all, let’s take a step back. The fact that fundraising is necessary at all really grinds my gears. Kids baking cakes and women shaving their heads and men running marathons is all great stuff, but the fact that research and support for such a vile, in-discriminatory, debilitating, life changing killer disease like cancer has to be funded by the public is appalling. When you look at the amount of money that is spent on war, footballers wages and Hollywood films, and then see that cancer charities are asking for donations to continue life saving work; well, something doesn’t add up there. The same can be said for many charities. I work in the sight loss industry, and some blind people rely heavily on charities like RNIB and Guide Dogs to level the playing field with sighted people for a physical disability that isn’t their fault. But that’s another post.
So, cancer charities are very necessary and very worthwhile.
My problem is the way in which the media encourages people to get involved, in this whole fun, uplifting show of bravado that “together we’ll beat cancer.” My current bug bear is with Absolute Radio, who are promoting a comedy show to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. The advert goes something along the lines of “we’re going to show cancer who’s boss – it’s us.”
It fucking well isn’t us at all. Statistically, the chances of being affected by cancer (that’s having it yourself or knowing someone who does) used to be 1 in 3. Now it’s that 1 in 2 people will get cancer. Not even be affected by it. Actually get it. I know a couple who both have cancer, now, at the same time. The guy has been told his is incurable, and while dealing with that, his wife got diagnosed with breast cancer, had a mastectomy and has just started chemotherapy.
That isn’t us “bossing” cancer.
The radio adverts for Macmillan coffee mornings also pissed me off “oh I’ll have a slice of cake then, if it means beating cancer”. For fuck’s sake, stop trivialising it. These adverts, with their airy fairy-ness, don’t represent the gritty reality of people being unable to eat, sleep or walk because their body is being ravaged by tumours. They’re making cancer into a sociable excuse to get together or a reason to bake some cakes and make yummy noises.
I’m not saying the fundraising efforts, and the encouragement to make them happen, should stop. Of course it shouldn’t; it’s an integral part of treating what is a global problem. I’m just saying I wish the reasoning behind these efforts wasn’t delivered in such a fluffy, softly softly way. And I know that’s because I saw what my Dad went through after his cancer diagnosis, and because I watched him deteriorate mentally and physically up until his death. And it’s because I’m bitter that all the cancer research in the world couldn’t save him. And it’s because I’m cynical, and I actually believe that a cure for at least some cancers already exists. And it’s because I can’t believe governments won’t sanction the use of cannabis oil to help cancer patients, in spite of it’s proven palliative and sometimes curative effects.
But mainly it’s because cancer is one of the most serious and worst things many of us will ever have to face; either personally or by association. And giving it a fascia of having fun isn’t doing justice to how life changing and damaging it is.
Here’s an idea for a marketing campaign.
“Cancer is evil and deadly and we want to support people affected by it, which we can do with your donations. Please give generously, either personally or through sponsored events. Thanks”
I’ll never forget the day my Dad asked me if I’d heard of Dignitas. It was about a year after his inoperable cancer diagnosis and we were sitting in his lounge one Saturday afternoon. He’d told me before I got there that he wanted to talk to me about some things, and I knew it would be related to his illness. He’d started off with discussing his will, so I was already crying by the time he mentioned the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland. I knew it wasn’t just idle conversation.
My Dad was very very scared of how he would die from cancer. I’m sure he was afraid of dying too, but his main focus was the how; what would happen to his body in the lead up to the end. Effects of prostate cancer include spinal cord compression – when the active tumours press on your spinal cord leading to limited mobility or, in some cases, paralysis. He was consumed with the idea that this might happen to him. That his final days or weeks might be spent confined to bed, relying solely on others to clean and feed him. It wasn’t how he wanted his life to end.
By the time he brought up the subject with me he’d already started looking into it. He’d been in touch with Dignitas to find out the process for being accepted at the clinic. Contrary to somewhat popular belief, their services aren’t open to just anyone. It’s not enough to feel you’re done with life and want to end it all. They ask for recent medical proof of your condition and, if possible, a prognosis. They’re not in the business of helping healthy people to die. They’re there to provide a much needed choice; a dignified end for people who want to control how and when they die, and at what stage in their deterioration. For people like my Dad who don’t want to face the end in potential pain; losing their independence and dignity as their illness ravages their body.
We discussed the logistics of it; how he would want his wife and I to fly with him to Switzerland. How he would need to be there for a couple of days prior to his chosen end date in order to be seen by medical professionals and psychiatric assessors. How he could change his mind at any time. How the clinic would help with arrangements around accommodation and restaurants and things to do in the days prior. How, on the chosen day, he would self administer a lethal amount of liquid barbiturate which would send him into what looks like a deep sleep, while his wife and I were there with him, holding his hand and able to say our goodbyes. How, after around 30 minutes, his organs would slow and eventually shut down completely. How his body would be cremated in Switzerland. How it might be difficult to repatriate his ashes into the UK because of the legalities around assisted dying, and how he understood. Whether he would tell family and friends in advance. Whether we would bring his belongings home, after we flew out to Switzerland as three people, and came back as two.
It was heartbreaking.
But, that said, I completely understood. And I completely supported him.
You see, my Dad never recovered from his inoperable cancer diagnosis. I don’t mean physically, that was an impossibility. But mentally he was never able to put it to the back of his mind. Although he went on holidays and did stuff while he still could, he never had that “fuck you cancer” mentality. It was pretty much all he spoke about. And that’s an exhausting way to live. From the time he was diagnosed he became obsessed with how long he had left to live, and what that time would be like. And, the more he found out about how bad things could become, the less he wanted to let nature take it’s course.
My Dad didn’t make it to Dignitas. He made the mistake of asking his GP for his medical records, so he could send them away as per the rules of the Swiss clinic. His GP asked him why he wanted them; almost goading him into telling him why. So my Dad told him. And his GP said he would have to consult the practice legal team, who advised that they couldn’t condone ending his life in that way, so he had to mark my Dad’s medical files as a potential suicide case with strict instructions not to release his files to him.
Dad was angry. Incredibly angry. He felt he’d been tricked and blamed the GP. He sought out charities and organisations and individuals who may have been able to help. He applied for his hospital records in the hope that they weren’t marked up with his intentions. But it proved just too difficult to get the information he needed quickly enough. Dignitas required recent medical records, and by the time the hospital processed the request they were already out of date for his needs.
During that fateful GP appointment, his doctor spoke very highly of the palliative care services available in the UK. Palliative care is end of life care. Pre-death care. The intention is to make sure that people with terminal illnesses are comfortable, not in pain and not suffering. There are Macmillan nurses and hospice workers who dedicate their life to looking after people with cancer, and they do a magnificent job. But what about the mental pain? The fear and the anguish of what’s to come? You can’t treat that with a morphine injection and a comfortable bed.
Palliative care 100% has a place in the NHS, I strongly believe that. But it shouldn’t be the only option.
When my Dad was given a timescale on his illness, towards the end, his obsession with what was to come became even worse. The team from Macmillan told him he had about 4-6 weeks left to live. He was too poorly to do anything, to weak to go out, too uncomfortable to share his marital bed, too ill to enjoy food or even eat. He lost a lot of weight, needed sticks just to get around at home and was regularly physically sick. Hew was also in immense amounts of pain, because the team supporting him were struggling to get the balance of medication right. The palliative care team the doctor had spoken so highly of; who were supposed to be a real and equal option to that of Dignitas. He had no quality of life, and still continued to fear worse to come; that he would be paralysed before his body gave up. He didn’t want to have to have a bed in his lounge and be unable to live the life he had previously there. He made the difficult decision to be transferred to a hospice for specialist care.
My Dad never made it to the hospice. He had a suspected stroke in the early hours of the morning he was due to be transported there by ambulance. He was rushed to A&E where he was convulsing and writhing in suspected pain. After the amazing hospital staff managed to get him comfortable, he was transferred to a private room in a ward where we knew he would see out his last hours. He never regained consciousness but all of his family were around him for the whole day and into the night, where he died not long before 11pm. We were, thank god, able to say our goodbyes. It was, in a way, the best thing that could have happened. Had he survived another 4 weeks, as diagnosed by the cancer specialists, he would have suffered an incredible amount, lost even more weight, been even more poorly and perhaps even have become paralysed as he feared. He’d have been in a hospice, away from home, waiting to die. And that just isn’t acceptable as the only option.
Imagine how much better he could have coped from the time of diagnosis until the inevitable end if he knew that he didn’t have to face the very worst that the illness could throw at him? That he could know in his own mind when enough was enough, and end his life on his terms? Because that’s the other issue with Dignitas. You need to be well enough to make the journey, and physically able to take the barbiturate. People who do make it to Dignitas often have to choose an end date in advance of what they would if assisted dying was an option in the UK, because they need to be sure they’re capable of getting there. They need to book flights and accommodation. They need to choose an end well in advance, without knowing if they’ll definitely feel desperately ill enough by that point. People are potentially cutting their lives shorter than they need to because of our archaic laws here in the UK.
It’s also bloody expensive, so not a valid option for everyone.
This is where Dignity in Dying comes in. They’re a charity who’s focus is to change the law in the UK around assisted dying; to make it possible for people with a terminal illness and a doctor’s diagnosis to choose when to die, in their own home or place of their choice, with their family and friends around them. For people to do it on their terms. Not to have to slink off like criminals. Not to have to worry whether their loved ones who have helped or accompanied them will face legal repercussions back in the UK. Not to fear undeterminable pain, potential paralysis, loss of bowel control, loss of appetite, sickness and god knows what else while they’re waiting to die. We aren’t talking about families pushing vulnerable people to end their life so as not to be a financial or literal burden. We’re talking about people for whom there is no hope of getting better, only the reality of getting worse. People who want to control their own destiny and make their own decision on when enough is enough. People who, understandably, don’t want their final days to be full of pain and suffering; people who don’t want to potentially die alone in hospital; people who want choice. Not inevitability. Not that sense of having to give in and accept their fate. The power to say enough is enough.
I know it’s said so many times by people who support the right to assisted dying, but we wouldn’t allow animals to suffer the way we allow humans to. I recently read a comment on a Dignity in Dying Facebook post, which said a terminally ill person would probably be better off going to a vet than a doctor. You can see the point. If an animal is poorly we do “the kindest thing”. It’s an accepted part of a humane society and an accepted part of being a pet owner. It’s allowable by law. Why then are people with cancer who can no longer eat or drink towards the end, due to the illness, allowed to essentially dehydrate and starve for days until their body finally gives up? Why are people with neurological diseases allowed to become prisoners in their own body, as their muscular responses cease to function, with death the only hope of respite?
Noel Conway was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in November 2014. Prior to his illness he’d worked in education and been incredibly active; hiking the Shropshire countryside around his home and skiing in Europe. His illness put a stop not only to that, but to any independence of life. He can now no longer walk, has difficulty breathing and has to be hoisted from his bed to a chair. He knows he’s in the latter stages of the illness, and his time is limited. Noel’s illness is terminal and he has naturally started to focus on the end of his life, which he would like to be on his terms. So, in an incredibly brave and dedicated act, Noel became involved with Dignity in Dying; using his own experiences and position to lobby for a change in the law in the UK.
In a better, more advanced, more compassionate country, Noel could make the most of the last months of his life in the small ways he can still create enjoyment; safe in the knowledge that when he knows that the time is right for him, he could call on a doctor to help him die in his own home with family and friends around him. Of course that time may not come. Noel may decide that he wants nature to take it’s course. The key word here is choice. Noel wants the choice to be available to him. Instead, because of archaic British laws which the UK Parliament are too scared to review – in spite of overwhelming support from the British public – Noel has spent his dying months in a legal battle which he’s taken all the way to the High Court.
In true Noel spirit, he and his legal team are already looking into the appeal process, on the basis that the 1961 suicide act – which prevents assisted dying in the UK – is incompatible with human rights legislation. Dignity in Dying will, of course, support Noel in his appeal.
Assisted dying in California – Betsy Davis
In November of last year, Betsy Davis – a 41 year old artist also dying from MND (or, more specifically, ALS which is the most common form of MND and also the type that Noel Conway has) held a party at a Californian ranch, surrounded by 30 friends. There was music, laughter, shared stories and memories. At the end of the weekend, she was wheeled out in her bed to watch the sunset and ingest a legally prescribed cocktail of drugs which slowed down her organs until she passed away peacefully. The assisted dying law had only been in force in California for a month.
What a difference this law made for Betsy. Her fear at living the last months of her life entombed in her own body, being fed through a tube and being completely reliant on others for every day care was replaced by a sense of purpose to organise her own exit; to spend her last days and hours how she wanted to, to end her life on a high note created at her own will, rather than in potential excruciating physical pain, and certainly mental anguish.
Support for a change in the law
There is a lot of support for a change in the law; not just from the general public but from people in the public eye.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has come out in support of choice.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu also calls for choice, and for that choice to be respected.
Now, if men of the cloth can understand the need for a change in the law, when religion is at the very heart of some people’s objection to assisted dying, why can politicians not see the need for change?
This image of Sandy, for me, sums it up.
It certainly would have helped my Dad, it would help Noel Conway, and it would help thousands of people both now and in the future. We’re forced to take responsibility for how we live our lives. Let’s be granted the responsibility for how we choose to die, too.