Let's Talk About Death
by Jenny Ousbey
People don’t generally talk about death over the dinner table. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we, as a nation, generally avoid the subject in polite conversation. On the occasions when death is talked about it is usually because it is perceived to have been ‘unnatural’ in some way. The acts of suicide and/or assisted dying fall into this morbid category and both have sparked debate since the Commission on Assisted Dying, hosted by Demos, was set up late last year.
Today the Commission heard evidence from a range of experts, including Lord Joel Joffe – proponent of the 2004 and 2005 Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.
One of the last people to give evidence to the Commissioners today was Chris Broad, ex-England cricketer and Stuart Broad’s father. Mr Broad’s wife Michelle committed suicide in July last year while suffering from motor neurone disease.
Her husband’s evidence to the Commission, whatever side of the fence you stand in terms of the issue of assisted death, contained some important insights to consider.
In describing Michelle’s decision, Mr Broad explained the difficulties which face the relatives of someone who is terminally ill. He said: “She had dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s – she knew exactly what she was doing. For me it was sad not knowing whether she wanted someone to be there just to hold her hand.”
Mr Broad went on to encompass many of the controversial issues covered by the Commission’s remit. He touched upon his wife’s quality of life; her mental state; the quality of her palliative care and her access to medication.
Whatever conclusions people draw the account of Michelle Broad’s final moments, it is important her case is interrogated from all angles, be it legally, medically, ethically and, perhaps most importantly, humanely.
I’ve had personal experience of people being too scared to ask after a seriously ill family member in case it made me break down in tears. In reality what’s more upsetting is the deafening silence which surrounds illness and dying. It is in this silence that confusion, misinformation and discord breed.
So whatever your personal view, talking about assisted death and suicide is important; if only to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.