Perhaps I am becoming sentimental, or maybe just more aware of what is happening in the world – maturer, maybe a little filled up with information like an old computer – but lately I have found myself a strong supporter of three – perhaps four – causes that I think are of paramount important to the health of all of us.
The only charities I have been involved in are the RSPB when I was a kid – though, I suspect I was only a member because a) I liked birds, and b) I got a magazine.
I sometimes think that being part of a charity like the RSPB or the RSPCA is important when you are a child. Thanks to those charities I have a great love of birds and wildlife that perhaps I would not have had otherwise. Identifying birds that I heard about in those magazines, and looking out for my favourites (the blue tit, and jay) is not just about bird-spotting, but helps us to protect the things we enjoy most.
Another charity is Macmillan Cancer Support. An extremely successful charity; I helped raised around £25,000 at high school for them – a phenomenal sum. But cancer charities (and I do not want to be seen as being overly heartless here) are in huge numbers, and receive enormous amounts of money.
If every high school in Scotland raised, let’s say, £20,000 for Macmillan, they would end up with £7.34 million* – a staggering sum; for just one charity, by just high schools. Cancer gets a lot of media attention, but often the actual period of suffering does not.
Now, of course I support these charities (left), but they do not need my help.
The number of cancer patients is often the major concern of the media, not the quality of that person’s life after diagnosis, and the care they receive at the very end of life.
For that reason, the first cause I will say I strongly support is the right to die, and palliative care.
Yesterday Bruce Forsyth became the latest well-known person to voice their support for the right to die, after watching his wife die suffering from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Disease, unlike many believe, does not actually kill you; normally sufferers die from pneumonia, or malnutrition. Of course, both are routed in Alzheimer’s Disease, but the disease itself does not actually kill.
Other celebrities such as Professor Stephen Hawking, Sir Patrick Stewart, Richard Branson, and the late MSP Margo MacDonald, who died from Parkinson’s last year, have also voiced support.
Forsyth’s recollections about his wife’s death were extremely touching, and went right to the core of what the right to die campaign is all about.
Sir Bruce Forsyth, 87, said: “It bothers me an awful lot that people are just left to suffer. If I had Alzheimer’s or dementia I would do something about it.
“The law should be changed and if people want to die with a bit of dignity left they should be able to do so.
“If it is what the person wants and it can be proved they are living a life of suffering it can be more cruel to do nothing. I’d like that right for myself.”
By the end of his wife’s life she did not even know who he was; a deeply heartbreaking situation for the partner, but an ever more distressing one for the one suffering. Of course, those who are against the practice say that such people may be coerced into choosing assisted death for sinister reasons.
Others say that the law would mean those with mental illnesses may not even realise what they are agreeing to. Even so, their quality of life at such a stage as Bruce’s wife was is extremely poor, and one cannot imagine how they must feel. However, for those in significant physical pain threshold be no reason why a Bill cannot be passed.
The same argument I have to those against abortion I have against anti-right to die believers: no one is forcing you to do it. This is an individual choice, and for the vast, vast majority of individuals there is no external coercion or manipulation, and so these people should, as Forsyth says, be able to die with a bit of dignity left.
I have touched on my second cause already, and for this I have a specified charity to which I give my support.
My Great Uncle Gill suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, and I can see how much it has impacted on himself and especially my Granddad. I cannot say I am close to my Great Uncle, but what I see in my Granddad I can tell that it has had a massive effect on him.
Parkinson’s is a disease which causes nerve cells in the brain to deteriorate, preventing a sufficient level of dopamine to allow movements to be smooth. Often sufferers will most jerkily, have poor balance, and have a tremor. The disease affects all muscles in the body, such as the throat, which can lead to breathing and eating problems. It can also cause Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s and cancer are probably the most well-known conditions, but Parkinson’s – for me – does not get the same amount of attention at the others. Those who suffer from it are extremely vulnerable, and can be a danger to both themselves and others. Falls are not uncommon, and some people still attempt to drive with Parkinson’s.
I have donated before to the Parkinson’s UK charity, but the number of other charities directly focused on the disease is quite limited; Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, and Cure Parkinson’s being the most notable alternatives. Compare this with around 600 cancer charities in the UK alone – some of which are hardly unique.
Yet, not all of us may be in the unfortunate position of having to consider assisted death, but we all need food; specifically, good quality food.
I can safely say that I probably account for at least a third of the UK consumption of dairy products. Along with my brother and his insatiable appetite for toast and cheese and jam, we probably eat around 18 kilos of dairy product between us in a week. Thereabouts.
What has become increasing apparent to me is the sour deal that dairy farmers are getting in Scotland. As I wrote in a previous blog, Scottish dairy farmers are in significant decline: creamed by cheap foreign imports; losing out to the supermarket price wars; and a drying up of order from China and Russia.
Scottish dairy farmer numbers have now slumped to under 1,000, and the price of milk has plummeted around 50 per-cent in the past decade or so. For this reason, I support the Back British Farming initiative, spearheaded by the National Farmers Union, and aided by Red Tractor.
This links back to my old RSPCA routes, as British farming is not just a part of our economy, but an essential part of our landscape. Imagine the Scottish landscape and you think of hills, fields, sheep, cows, and wild haggis.
Though I am yet to see the rare Haggis, I do know that farmers truly are suffering in Scotland, and the whole of the UK. Without British farming our food quality is in jeopardy, and so too are the livelihoods of those farmers and people who work on farms.
Without farms, jobs are lost; sheep and cows would be subjected to terrible conditions in “zero-grazing” plants; and our food would be imported from different parts of the world, some of which may not be of high quality.
I’ve never seen myself as much of an activist, or a passionate believer in – well – anything. But recently I have found that I have had a call to do something, anything to prevent the things I love from fading away.
Up until recently, my main focus has been commenting on the news, but why not get involved in making it? Pushing the Government to take notice of the problems facing millions of people up and down the country, and challenge archaic ideas about right to die, and abortion.
*Based on 367 schools in 2011