At Humanist Society Scotland we believe passionately in everyone’s right to die in the way they want to. We are currently campaigning for moderate, compassionate assisted dying laws alongside our allies at Dignity in Dying and Friends at The End. If the assisted dying bill lodged by Liam McArthur MSP passes into law this year, we’ll have achieved our aim in Scotland.
Jackie Roberts is a campaigner for Dignity in Dying. She saw her parents die in pain, and now she has a terminal diagnosis of her own. Jackie is just the kind of inspiring advocate for humanist causes that we like to introduce through our interview series.
Can you introduce yourself and explain how you became interested in assisted dying?
I’m Jackie from Edinburgh, I’m 73 years young, and I’ve got incurable (terminal) but treatable stage 4 breast cancer.
What inspired you to get involved with Dignity in Dying?
I think I first became aware of Dignity in Dying when my dad was diagnosed with cancer after his heart attacks back in 1996, then my mother had a similar diagnosis in 2003. My father didn’t have a particularly good death and my mother (an ex-tax inspector who was fully compos mentis until her death) tried to take her own life twice. I still didn’t get involved, but was a silent observer of their trials and tribulations.
I also did a bit of work for the late Margo McDonald MSP and was very disappointed but not surprised when her bill for assisted dying failed in 2015 [Margo lodged this bill in 2011 but died from Parkinson’s in 2014 and the bill was taken over by Patrick Harvie]. But the support for it, I think, was far greater than for the previous bill [introduced by Margo in 2010 but voted down the same year]. It wasn’t until 2021, when I myself was diagnosed with cancer, that I became much more more aware and involved.
“I would ask readers, have they had a relative or someone close to them die a painful death? Would they want that for themselves?” Jackie Roberts, Dignity in Dying campaigner
Why are you supporting Liam McArthur’s bill? What are the unique and positive aspects of it from your point of view?
I’m 100% behind Liam’s bill as, I think, are the majority of the public now. Why shouldn’t I or anyone who is terminally ill have the right to choose how we die. In a fantasy world where everything politicians said was true, we would have excellent palliative and hospice care. However the reality is there’s nowhere near enough of either palliative or hospice care, and it can’t solve all problems anyway. The judging of pain relief, like deciding when and how much morphine, is not good.
What do you think unconvinced readers should know about assisted dying legislation?
I think my case for trying to convince readers that assisted dying is the right decision would be to ask them if they had had a relative or someone close die a painful death. Then ask if they want that for themselves. I would then point out that Liam’s bill is only for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. They must be able to make their own decisions and not be pressurised by others.
What’s coming up for you as an activist and campaigner?
I so want to be able to make the choice of how I die, especially as I have a terminal diagnosis. I’m more than happy to make or state my case. I just want to help make the ones who are not convinced change their minds.
Assisted Dying campaign
We have long campaigned for compassionate choice at the end of life, and we are currently supporting the proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was created with our support alongside our coalition partners Dignity in Dying Scotland, and Friends at the End, and is being taken forward by Liam McArthur MSP.
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