Sir Patrick Stewart, who will forever be Captain Jean-Luc Picard to “Star Trek” fans, has very strong convictions about the assisted suicide debate. Over the past several years, Stewart has opened up about his belief that people struggling with terminal illnesses should be able to end their lives on their own terms. He even stated that if he were to become terminally ill, he would choose assisted suicide over continuing to suffer in an essay for The Daily Mail.
Stewart revealed that two traumatic events from his own life shaped his beliefs about the right to die with dignity: his own battle with heart disease and the tragic death of a close friend.
Stewart’s Friend Took Her Own Life
Content Warning: Suicide
Stewart started speaking publicly about his support for assisted suicide in 2014. In an interview with Sky News, the actor revealed that he’s supported assisted suicide for several years and that his own advance medical directives already included specific instructions regarding his end-of-life beliefs.
He continued, saying that he didn’t have any reason to speak about these beliefs publicly before. However, the “shocking” death of a friend prompted him to become an advocate for assisted suicide.
Stewart explained that the wife of his friend David, whom he’d known since childhood, took her own life because she was in so much pain from terminal cancer.
“His partner was terminally ill. [She] had multiple cancers in all different organs of her body. [She was] in considerable pain, and pallative care was not able to deal fully with her condition. She had already once tried to kill herself with an overdose and had failed. Of course, that brought about even more distress and unhappiness. One evening, she had two dogs that she loved, her partner took the dogs out for a walk. And while they were gone, she put a plastic bag over her head and pulled the strings tight. That’s how my friend found her when he returned with the dogs. She died alone. She died without the comfort of her dogs up beside her, which she loved, and, of course, her life partner.”
Stewart went on to say that he was so “appalled” by the way his friend died that he decided to become an outspoken, public advocate for assisted suicide. He then unequivocally stated that terminally ill people should have the right to die the way they want to die.
In the essay Stewart wrote for The Daily Mail, he asserted that because of the laws against assisted suicide, his friend’s wife “ended her life in a terrible way, all alone.” He wrote that if assisted suicide were legal, she would have been able to “quietly slip away in David’s arms.”
Stewart’s Own Brush With Death
In October 2019, Stewart did a long segment on This Morning, a British talk show, about his support for assisted suicide. Toward the end of that conversation, one of the hosts asked if Stewart’s own health impacted his beliefs about the right to die with dignity.
Stewart responded by sharing about his own, abrupt brush with death.
“I was diagnosed [with heart disease] very unexpectedly during my annual physical… My cardiologist said to me, ‘What are you doing this afternoon?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to Paramount Pictures for lunch.’ He said, ‘I’d rather you didn’t.’ In five minutes I was on a gurney giving details of next of kin. So, it was rather dramatic. I didn’t have time to brood on it… But yes, it was a wake-up call.”
That incident forced him to confront his own mortality and cement his decisions about end-of-life care.
Is Assisted Suicide Now Legal in the UK?
When Stewart started speaking out about his support for assisted suicide, he also stated his support for Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. The bill was introduced to the House of Lords in 2014, shortly before Stewart began speaking out on the issue. The Assisted Dying Bill made it to a committee review but stalled there. Different versions of the bill have been introduced since then. The latest version was submitted to the House of Lords in 2020.
According to the UK’s National Health Service, both assisted suicide and euthanasia are still illegal in the UK as of September 2021. The NHS defines assisted suicide as “the act of deliberately assisting another person to kill themselves.” It defines euthanasia as “the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering.” So, helping someone to commit suicide themselves is just as illegal as taking action to end their life.
Under UK law, euthanasia is considered either manslaughter or murder, depending on the circumstances. Euthanizing someone with a terminal illness could result in a lifelong prison sentence. Assisted suicide is prohibited by the Suicide Act of 1961, which states that anyone who helps someone commit suicide could face up to 14 years in prison.
Though multiple bills and votes have occurred to change these laws, none have yet been successful.
Stewart has called these laws “barbaric,” “cruel,” and “inhumane.” He continues to advocate for the repeal of the Assisted Suicide Act and the passage of the Assisted Dying Bill.
If you feel you are in crisis, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255) or the National Suicide Helpline UK at 0800 689 5652.
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