The death last week of Bob Cole at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland once again highlighted the emotive issues surrounding assisted suicide. Mr Cole himself had been a prominent campaigner for legalising assisted suicide in the UK following his wife Ann’s decision to end her life 18 months previously due to a degenerative brain condition.
The assisted suicide of Bob Cole is just the latest example of someone who has sought to take their own life peacefully to end their personal suffering, but whilst his case and the issue of assisted suicide received wide media coverage, the actual cause of his decision only managed to receive a cursory mention. In June this year Bob Cole was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the aggressive asbestos related disease. Doctors informed him that he may only have 3 months to live, and with there being no hope of survival and already in excruciating and debilitating pain, he chose to end his life prematurely.
Whilst the debate and campaign on legalising assisted suicide will continue, Bob Cole’s death should not be seen solely about this, even though he himself as a prominent campaigner on the issue chose to use his own death to once again call for a change in the law. We need also to look at the actual cause of his decision – mesothelioma, as without having this terrible condition Bob Cole would not now be dead.
Unlike the campaign for legalising assisted suicide, the campaign for sustainable long term funding for medical research into mesothelioma has struggled to attract publicity, even though it is aimed at finding solutions so that victims such as Bob Cole may have the possibility of an extended life worth living.
Mesothelioma has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the UK alone, and continues to kill 2-3 thousand here each year. What have we done about preventing this human carnage medically? In reality, little. Funded UK research into the disease has always been extremely limited. The British Lung Foundation’s current campaign for mesothelioma research funding via a levy on the insurance industry has highlighted the vast funding differences between different medical conditions, with in 2012 only £480 per death spend on mesothelioma research in contrast to leukaemia for example which received £6900 per death.
The paucity of mesothelioma research funding may well be down to an image of it being an old mans industrial disease, a disease that appears in tradesmen decades after their exposure to asbestos. But growing numbers of younger victims exposed in our asbestos-ridden schools shows the hideous disease has far wider tentacles, which include for example Sir Alastair Aird, the husband of the godmother to our Prime Minister David Cameron, exposed to asbestos whilst working at Clarence House for the Queen Mother.
Bob Cole’s death should not just be about whether a person may be allowed assistance in the ending of their life, it should also be about our long term failure to find answers for mesothelioma; but without the necessary levels of research funding the human misery will continue.