When I was a teenager I was extremely lucky, landing in the middle of a cultural and social revolution. Driving into assembly on the back of a motorbike, having a fling with an unsuspecting English teacher and being desperate to get myself laid at 15 gave me immediate membership to the only club worth joining - the club that was 'the 60s'. Apart from occasional doses of teenage angst, I was what you might call very, ‘alive and kicking’; anything I could kick against, I did. And therein lays the problem - the one about being alive. Consider the figures reported below to be accurate statistics:
In Scotland 69 per cent are in favour of assisted suicide for people suffering from cancer or chronic diseases, while 76 per cent believe that relatives should not be prosecuted for helping.
Well of course they do, because they don’t know either the whole story or the consequences of adopting such a foolhardy policy. Because in the main when you’re young, fit, or thinking you’ll live forever, like I did, you simply want 'it' - that’s death - to go away. If you’ve seen a relative die slowly or lost someone suddenly, then you will know that most palliative care is wanting and that in general people don’t handle death very well in this country.
So where’s ‘the rub’ for someone who thought she’d live forever? Well it came to me late one February night when I sneezed without stopping for several hours. I was in my 30s, working freelance as a dramatherapist and still, I’d like to think, kicking a bit. I’d captured myself a young husband and had a one year old son. By the evening of that very same day I was completely paralysed. Not just a bit - completely.
I couldn’t breathe, speak, shit or scream, only my autonomic organs worked. I was in agony everyday, fully conscious and facing my death. It took me over five months to breathe on my own, six to begin to talk and nearly two years to feed myself without sticking things down my ears.
As I lay there I thought only about being alive. You see that’s the dichotomy about life - when you’re dying you think about living and when you’re living, well, you’re going to die.
That doesn’t mean planning it for the sake of convenience or because there are those in society who find age and disability abhorrent and want to escape it at any cost. Rather like the Royal College of Physicians who planned to get rid of 6,000 ‘minimally conscious’ people but were halted in their tracks by Judge Baker during the ’M’ case. I will not pay that cost with my life.
I claim the right to live as I am, imperfect. I claim the right for others like me to live, despite it all and because of it all. I know what it’s like to be truly alone on a sea of pain and to have someone discuss your future, your place in society.
I know what it would be like if you knew that euthanasia was possible and that was your fate. Death is the undiscovered country; some, for bent love, good intentions or money would have you take the trip. Don’t take it.
So, to Margo MacDonald and to her followers who once chose to leave rather than stay and listen to us I say, "If it was down to you I wouldn’t be here."
So Margo, for you: I’m still kicking.