Jennifer Buchan is a trained nurse and a celebrant of the HSS. At the launch of Margo MacDonald’s Bill, she gave this speech.
Good morning. My name is Jennifer Buchan and I am a celebrant with the Humanist Society Scotland. I, like my colleagues who have joined us here today, am in the privileged position of being able to spend time with families following the death of a loved one. From the information that families share with me, I then compose and conduct a funeral ceremony. I am often asked, “How can you do that job? Is it not depressing writing about death?” I always reply, “But I write about life, and then I am allowed to share the stories of people’s lives with the people who knew and loved them.”
For some of the people who have lived with a serious illness or condition for a time before they passed away, their families tell me their memories, and how their loved one coped when they were nearing the end of their life. Other families ask me not to mention any of the time when their loved one was ill, as the person had felt that life had altered so considerably, that they were no longer in control, and they didn’t even feel like themselves.
I visited the home of James (not his real name), a terminally ill gentleman a few weeks ago, but he would not let me see him. He had chosen music and poetry for his funeral ceremony, and I was talked through his life by his family, his friends and his colleagues. The stories they told me about this intelligent, talented and funny man were great, and I included them all in his funeral tribute. He had led an incredible life, he loved his wife and children, and they adored him. The reason I was not allowed to see this lovely man before he died, was because he did not want my writing to be influenced by the man in the bed, who had stopped wanting to live.
James’ diagnosis was a terrible blow to him and his family, and his prognosis was a shock. As a man who lived life to the full, he was determined to make the most of every minute he had left, but, every day was overshadowed with a feeling of dread. James dreaded the time, that he knew was coming, when life for him would become unbearable. James felt that the final months spent with his family would have been much easier if he had been given a choice, if he had the relief of knowing that the unbearable did not have to happen.
When I was asked if I would consider applying to train to be a facilitator, I thought long and hard about my decision. For those who would pass the selection process, training would then be undertaken, involving best practice techniques, medical and psychological, from countries where assisted suicide is already legal. When the training is completed, only those who choose to continue into the role would be registered as facilitators. It is a lot to consider.
Then I thought about what it would mean to the people, that a facilitator would be trusted to help. People like James, who could get on with living their lives, without dread, knowing that when the time came, their personal decision would be respected, and, they could choose when their life came to an end. They would also know that if they required assistance, that assistance would be given, they would be supported, and they would be treated with kindness and compassion. It is not a big ask.
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