Our splash story today says that terminally ill patients are to be asked how they want to die. In a poignant juxtaposition, inside the paper we ran an obituary of Dr Ann McPherson, the author of the wonderful Diary of a Teenage Health Freak, and in recent years a campaigner for the right to die with dignity.
I hope it’s not inappropriate, but I want to say a few words about Dr McPherson. She was a friend of my parents – she was a doctor in Oxford, as both of my parents are, and the medical mafia in Oxford all know each other. I didn’t know her especially well, although I knew her to say hello to. She was around our house for various oh-so-north-Oxford parties my parents had from time to time, and was always lovely. I was, as a teenager, a huge fan of her books, especially Health Freak and The Virgin Now Boarding. This isn’t the greatest eulogy, I realise, but bear with me.
She died on Saturday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Always a vociferous campaigner on health issues, notably Healthtalkonline, the website – supported by Hugh Grant – which allowed patients to share their experiences, she became a passionate advocate of assisted dying after her diagnosis in 2007.
There are a lot of people who comment here, and a certain number of my fellow bloggers, who are equally passionately against assisted dying, I realise. One doctor I know, who works in palliative care, believes that it is a terrible idea, that offering assisted death as an option undermines end-of-life care. I recognise the complexity of the argument. But today, when we’re talking about how patients would like to die, I would like to repeat her clear-eyed message that she gave to the Royal Society of Medicine last year:
“I know recently a palliative care doctor has said that every suicide is a tragedy. I don’t agree with that. I think that assisted dying for someone who is terminally ill may be a celebration, it shouldn’t be seen as a tragedy.
“It maybe means that they have much better dignity in their death and their family can be there and they can plan it in a way that they can get all the support that they want.
“I don’t want to go somewhere like Switzerland, to Dignitas, to be able to die with dignity. I want to have the option of being able to be in my own home, surrounded by my family and friends, if that’s what I want and how it happens.”
I gather that she did indeed die at home, and with dignity, and I’m glad about that. I hope that her campaign makes it easier for others to do likewise. RIP Ann.