"Most catastrophic day of my life"

I support Margo MacDonald's Assisted Suicide Bill, now making its way through the Holyrood Parliament, with a passion fuelled by memories of the most catastrophic day of my life.

My wife had the best possible reasons for seeking self-deliverance from a life that could only become more helpless, humiliating and painful. I could tell you the story that explains those reasons; but what purpose would that serve? A brave, wise and intelligent woman, she was entitled to make her own decision. Suicide is not a crime. We had foreseen this situation and had often talked about how she would deal with it.

She spent months sorting out the papers she had assembled over a lifetime, shredding those she did not wish to leave behind. We had some wonderful times together. She said goodbye to old friends and her family, meeting some of them, writing or 'phoning to others. (Some guessed what was happening; others did not.) She wrote a letter saying what she planned to do, explaining why, taking full responsibility for it, and thanking staff of the NHS who had cared for her so well.

Then, come the day - after a happy Christmas with the closest members of her family - she had a shower, put on some very light make-up, and donned the new nightie she had bought, washed and ironed for this occasion. Taking from the drawer the nembutal she had acquired - the drug of choice used by the Dignitas clinic - she went to bed at the time she usually took her afternoon nap. I brought her a small glass of whisky. It was many years since she had tasted any, but we had been warned that the drug might be quite bitter.

I sat beside her on the bed, holding her hand, and we talked gently for a minute or two. After swallowing the dram she took the drug, saying a minute later that she had a feeling of warmth in her chest but could not tell whether that was the whisky or the drug. In four minutes her hand relaxed and she was gone: elegantly, peacefully and gallantly.

Recalling the reports we have all read of near-death experiences - patients looking down from the ceiling at their own bodies below; then seeing before them a dark tunnel with a light at the end of it - I looked up, still holding her hand, and said "I love you my darling. Safe journey."

Then began the rest of my life - such as it is. A journey through a vale of tears.

These are the questions I reflect on today as I consider Margo's Bill. Why could I not tell our friends and our doctor what happened that day; celebrating my wife's gallantry instead of lying to them? Why did she, like so many others, have to go to such lengths to acquire the means for self-deliverance - exposing anyone who helps them to a charge of assisting in a suicide (maximum sentence, fourteen years in jail)?

Why do such people, who may be suffering great pain and fear, have to take full responsibility for ending their lives, without the professional help that is readily available - often leaving us sooner than they would wish because they must take action while still capable of doing so unaided?

Why can a society whose scientists invent every month new ways of prolonging our lives not honour and respect the right of every human being to decide when, where and how they will leave this world, and offer them whatever help they need at that time? Why can we not live our dying in more honest and kindly ways?

Why do I still feel that (for the sake of people I love) I must ask for my name not to be added to this story?

Margo's Bill could, for the first time, give us civilised answers to those questions.

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