Ray’s lecture was a fitting tribute to Ann, of whom he said:
‘I last saw [Ann] towards the end of March when, along with Joe Collier, we gave evidence at Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying. Nothing in her behaviour or manner would have betrayed the fact that she was mortally ill with pancreatic cancer.’
He finished the lecture by reminding us all how much Ann contributed to the campaign.
‘Those who oppose a change in the law should remember Ann’s unnecessarily cruel end. If it makes them think again, the suffering of this dedicated and compassionate doctor at the end of her life will be her final gift to her patients and to the wider world to which she contributed so much. We are all in her debt.’
Ray also took the opportunity to address some of the misconceptions about our campaign.
Of the argument that assisted dying would be unnecessary if we had optimal palliative care he said:
‘This is not true as my experience as a doctor for over 35 years made clear, when I was responsible for patients whose symptoms were uncontrolled even when they had first-rate palliative care. And Ann’s own death – typical of so many others (including my mother and father) – is eloquent testimony to the failures of palliative care in some patients. International experience also confirms that palliative care fails some patients…This is not to belittle the importance of palliative care, which can help a great many dying patients achieve a dignified death, but to acknowledge honestly that it, like other modes of healthcare, has its limitations.’
To the argument that assisted dying legislation will inhibit investment in palliative care, Ray replied:
‘I have heard it said by someone on several occasions that palliative care does not exist in countries where there is legislation in favour of assisted dying. International experience of course does not support this. The usual pattern is that liberalisation of the law, (in some countries, such as Netherlands, far beyond anything I would support), has been accompanied by increasing investment in palliative care services. In Oregon, the proportion of people dying in hospice care – a marker of the availability of palliative care – has more than doubled since the Death with Dignity Act was introduced.’
And when it is suggested that assisted dying will break down trust between doctor and patient, he said.
‘This is not borne out by the evidence. A Europe-wide survey put levels of trust in the Netherlands at the top. And this is not surprising: in countries with assisted dying, discussion of end-of-life care is open, transparent, honest and mature, not concealed beneath a cloud of ambiguity, as it is in the UK. And the knowledge that your doctor will not abandon the therapeutic alliance with you at your hour of greatest need, will foster, not undermine, trust.’
While it is impossible to capture the atmosphere and enthusiasm of that room full of healthcare professionals, Dr Ann McPherson’s family, friends and colleagues, and campaigners in a short blog, I think it’s fair to say that the campaign to allow people the kind of death Ann wanted, but was sadly denied, has once again been invigorated.