There are times when the voting public feels disenfranchised. Consistent public support over changes to allow voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide seems to make little difference to entrenched politicians, especially those fearful of their career, and facing the might of institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church. Admittedly, some opinion polls are flawed: but many are not. They are conducted to the highest possible standards by professional bodies. Politicians ignore the wishes of the public, not to give strong moral leadership (which would be an acceptable reason) but out of political cowardice (which surely is not).
The lone candidates who dare to buck the wrath of the prolong-life-at-any-cost campaigners, are often ones with nothing to lose or else disappear shortly after making their stand. In Westminster, the Liberal Democrats went soft on their pro-choice stand as soon as they got into power with the Tories. In Holyrood (Scotland), Margo Macdonald continues to fight an almost lone battle. She is a politician that has committed herself to representing the views of the people – a rare thing, it would seem, these days. So when 80% of the public are not enough to be heard, who else is there?
Celebrities, for a start. The support of a celebrity (such as we’ve seen with Bob Geldof and the Live Aid campaign) can increase the chances of success for a cause. Leadership of any pressure group is important, and celebrity leadership can enhance the public image of the pressure group issues.
Patrick Stewart is the latest celebrity to raise the flag for assisted suicide and decent, dignified dying at the patient’s choice. “Should the time come for me, I would like there to be a choice I might make about how I die,” he said. The Shakespearean actor and ‘Star Trek’ star has spoke out because of a recent story in the media about an actress who was driven to kill herself in a horrific way when she couldn’t live with her illness anymore.
Former Bond girl Angela Scoular, 65, had bowel cancer and died after allegedly drinking acid last week. The tragedy motivated Patrick to speak out to the Sunday Times newspaper: “This person was driven to an extreme situation of ending their own life in the most ghastly way. . . . There’s got to be an alternative when someone is suffering and ready to go. Everything that medicine can do to keep somebody alive doesn’t automatically follow as the best option.”In an almost satirical aside to reporter Giles Hattersley, he quipped, “I’ll beam myself up, thank you, God.”
More unbridled speaking out comes in the shape of British author Sir Terry Pratchett in a BBC Two documentary about assisted suicide scheduled for this summer. The Discworld writer will travel to a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland with a 71-year-old who suffers from motor neurone disease.
Chris Broad, former England cricketer and international referee, has also just come in support after his wife secretly took her own life.
Mr Broad told The Daily Telegraph he still wished he could have been with his wife during her final waking moments. “You marry a person to go through all the highs and lows that a relationship brings,” he said. “Not to be able to be there, not to be able to show support for your other half’s decision, is sad, because she died alone.”