Mayflies – the Swiss option

30 Dec

Too much to ask, even of a best mate? Tony Curran and Martin Compston in Mayflies

I should declare a personal interest. As one taken into care early in life – which is to say, as one who knows what it is to be a child in the power of people who do not love you – I’ve no desire to end my days in the ‘care’ of folks underpaid, underqualified and for good measure enraged at my generation for having had it so easy.

In short, I’m all for the Swiss option and shall soon be taking my first steps down that path.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. While I sure could use a bit of the old strength, agility and above all vim, my life has never been more fulfilling. Speaking as one who clocked up seventy spins round the sun last Michaelmas, I’ve so far found it true that every age has its compensations.

Or to turn that on its head, that youth is wasted on the young.

It’s just that assisted dying agencies – here’s one such – apply pretty rigorous testing before accepting you as eligible for that one-way trip to Switzerland. To ensure the decision really is yours, they need to know that (a) no third party is applying pressure, (b) you are of sound mind and (c) not depressed. Given criterion (b) it makes sense not to procrastinate unduly.

With fulfilment of these criteria established, and a deposit paid (some £3-4k of a £6-8k total 1 ) you control the timing. You may leave it another seventy years if so inclined, subject to being physically able to press the button – that has to be you of course – and may change your mind at any point up to the release of those curtain-call chemicals.

How do I know such things? One, last month I had a cystoscopy 2 to check for bladder cancer. It gave me the all clear, as I’d expected, but I’d nevertheless had to consider the possibility of an inoperably malignant tumour. With the instantaneity of epiphany, leaving conscious reasoning in the dust, I knew I would not be going down the radio or chemo roads. Rational arguments – that I have little fear of death, great fear of pain, and a greater fear of ending my days ‘in care’; moreover, that the two people I played a small but vital role in bringing into this world ceased long ago to be dependent on me – all had to play catch-up after the fact of lightning intuition.

The second reason? I have a good friend – a few years older but, like me, not ready to go quite just yet – who has been accepted and paid her deposit. She told me that reaction from friends has been mixed, whereas I was not only approving but picking her brains on the details.

And there you have it. My bias duly declared, let me turn to last week’s BBC offering, Mayflies …


Whether nicking bent cops as DS Steve Arnott in the Line of Duty, a junior associate of Buster Edwards and Ronald Biggs on the Great Train Robbery or Hiding In Plain Sight – though not well enough to dodge the gallows – as fifties serial killer Peter Manuel, if Martin Compston ever delivered a less than riveting performance it passed me by.

What’s more, he not only shows astuteness in choice of roles. He also has the useful knack of working alongside equally worthy actors. In Line of Duty that would be Adrian Dunbar, Vickie McClure, Craig Parkinson and a string of guest baddies 3 that takes in thespians of the calibre of Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Stephen Graham, Kelly MacDonald, Mark Bonnar and a good few others: stellar actors queuing up to be part of so deservedly successful a series.

In Mayflies we have Tony Curran and Ashley Jensen as co-leads in early middle age, while Ryan Gordon and Tom Glynn-Carney play Compston and Curran in adolescence. All turn in bravura performances, with strong support from Tracy Ifeachor as Compston’s wife.

The plot? Skip this paragraph to avoid mild spoiler but, in truth, Mayflies is less plot-driven than a character study of four people ensnared in tragedy. Curran has terminal cancer and wants the Swiss option. Best mate Compston agrees, with misgivings, not only to help but – unwisely – to conceal his pal’s decision from Curran’s wife. Who of course finds out. And – as well as being beside herself with rage – will never understand why the hospice route was not considered. 4

That’s it. That’s the plot.

As indicated at the outset, I’m biased. You may want to allow for that in judging the accuracy of my appraisal that, as heart-rendingly grown up TV drama goes, Mayflies is as good as it gets.

* * *

  1. £6-8k plus price of a one-way flight strikes me as excellent value given (a) the cost of all those checks, and the attendant one-on-one hand-holding; (b) that you can skip a funeral. (The thought of my death costing thousands of pounds in funeral and coffin is anathema to me. A wake is something else.) I’m painfully aware of course that, reasonable as it may be, £6-8k puts the Swiss option beyond the reach of many.
  2. You can read more about my date with Sister Scope a year ago, and why I stood her up. But a second occurrence of blood in my urine led me to revisit the matter, as I’d always said I would – though I did insist on general anaesthesia for a procedure more usually done under local. At some point, when ruling class devilry allows me a brief interlude, I’ll write up my experience.
  3. One of several factors – see my reply to Margaret O’Brien, below – to raise Line of Duty above bog-standard is that many (not all) of its ‘baddies’ have their sympathetic side: as much sinned against as sinners.
  4. FWIW and insofar as we can foretell how we’d behave in Curran’s shoes, I’d go down the hospice route. Assuming excruciating pain can be taken out of the equation, my interest in the Swiss option is rooted in terror of being ‘in care’ or a burden on my family. (UK law allows assisted dying only on medical grounds, and then only in exceptional circs, though ‘accidental’ overdoses of opiates doubtless occur.)

8 Replies to “Mayflies – the Swiss option

  1. Firstly, so good to read you got the all clear; and I know exactly what that’s like because I got the all clear, no cancer cells in my lymph nodes after a hysterectomy for endometrial cancer in October. There were a few very hot mid summer nights this year with beautiful sunsets when I went to bed thinking I might have to say goodbye to my kids and my husband. And Barney the dog. I’m very lucky. I’m 72 and feel almost fully recovered and I feel fairly young, although I may be a bit delusional about that! I’m definitely of sound mind and wouldn’t rule out the Swiss option in the future. Like you I fear pain but fear being “in care” even more. I do also fear death. I’m convinced there’s no afterlife and am a member of a humanists group who believe in making the most of the life we’ve got. I’m also trying harder to be more kind to people and not judge others (except politicians and the like!)

    My daughter is in charge of a dementia unit in a care home. It is long gruelling 12 hour shifts with no proper meal breaks, shit money, nearly always one of the residents on “end of life” regime. I could not do her job. I’m extremely proud of her. The rich people who own a string of these places gave her a 20 quid Xmas bonus. I will never reside somewhere like that.

    I admire Martin Compston’s work, also that of the other actors you mention. I like watching Line of Duty, especially Adrian Dunbar’s interrogation technique, although my son, a copper, says it’s obviously nothing like real policing. He prefers Happy Valley which he says is very like the real police and is actually set where he is, West Yorkshire.

    I saw Martin Compston as the serial killer, again excellent performance.

    I saw Mayflies in the schedules over Xmas but didn’t feel mentally strong enough a few days ago to cope with the subject matter, however, I feel better now and am going to watch it.

    So glad you’re well.

    Happy and peaceful new year xx

    PS. I’ve also been absolutely terrified all year of the possibility of the world going nuclear. Still am.

    • Thanks for this Margaret. You’re the third person to tell me that, though an atheist, you fear death. It’s too small a sample to generalise but all have been women, one of them my daughter. I don’t get it myself – I’ll be dead, so there’ll be no ‘me’ to mourn the fact – but since all three are people I have great respect for, I have to accept that either we’re not all wired the same, or I’m fooling myself about not fearing death.

      I feel for your daughter. Capitalism is a cancer, though too few recognise that its threat is existential and totalitarian.

      The implausibility of AC12’s shenanigans bothers me not at all. What I look for in drama is on the one hand deep truth and meaning – the kind of offering which leaves you mulling on it for days or even weeks afterwards. Mayflies ticks this box, as does the Netflix film – viewed by me last night – the heart-warming Bradford romance of Ali and Ava.

      On the other hand, if I’m looking for sheer entertainment, plot plausibility comes way down the list – after well drawn characters, great dialogue and edge of seat moments. Line of Duty checks these boxes for me (above all in those thrilling grillings). As do Peaky Blinders and of course Happy Valley.

      When you’re up for it, let me know how you got on with Mayflies.

      Happy new year to you!

  2. Yes I think I’ve seen this L of D piece before, very good. I just listen to it though without watching because the image of BJ makes me want to vomit.

    I watched Mayflies yesterday afternoon and the first thing I’d say is the couple of minutes at the end when he’s outside kicking the ball into the net and jumping around, in his last moments of life, was one of the most moving scenes I’ve ever seen on film. A terminally ill man dying on his own terms and squeezing the last few drops of joy out of life at the very end. Amazing is an overused word but this truly was. What acting!

    And Martin Compston as his very good friend, true to him throughout, upfront with his friend about his aversion to taking him to Switzerland but staying steadfast and loving to the end.

    I understand Tully’s wife’s take; who wouldn’t want to try and keep the one you love the most alive? But as he neared the end she did not want his suffering to continue.

    Best drama of the year watched on the last day of the year.

    I was reading this morning on the National Secular Society website about the bishops in the “House of Lords” blocking legislation on assisted dying, something that’s been known and reported on for years. You mentioned the financial cost of going to Switzerland which is obviously out of reach to many, but the other, much higher cost is that the terminally ill who want to take up the Swiss option have to be still physically able to get on a plane to go to Switzerland, while dying, which inevitably means they have to die sooner than they would if they were allowed to die at home in peace and dignity. Methinks the bishops either haven’t thought about that, or maybe they think it serves them right for defying “God’s will”. Don’t even get me started on a second unelected chamber including “holy” men in frocks! Seriously, this is sickening.

    You’ll also probably be aware that less than 1% of the population attend CofE services and most of them are in their 60s 70s and 80s.
    One more bit on euthanasia; the Vatican view is even worse – they actually think dying in agony is good for the “soul” as it brings one closer to “God”. Sick death and suffering cult. I was brought up in that “faith”.

    That’s almost it for today, except our mate Starmer has apparently “pledged” to abolish the House of Lords. Although he’s backtracked a bit and maybe it’ll be “reform” it. What’s a Starmer pledge worth? Can’t stop laughing

  3. Someone I used to work with ended up in the position of being totally dependent upon carers in the Leonard Cheshire at Totley. It was painful for all of those who knew and had worked alongside him over the years to watch the deterioration of an intelligent and capable human being.

    Talking things over with one individual, still on the tools at the time, after his eventual and inevitable passing the consensus was, to put it in our crude industrial workman’s terms, that when we reached the point of not being able to wipe our own backsides we really did not want to hang about in the same way.

    Individually I still hold onto that position. Yet, I’m aware of the reality that as with everything else experienced in life there are those who would, again using industrial parlance, seek to use any process to ‘kick the arse out it’ by persuading those living in what is a system designed and imposed poverty that this represents a ‘reasonable’ way out of said poverty. An issue recently covered in this article on the Strategic Culture site:

    The point being that the dynamics of the rent seeking approach – whatever label one prefers to attach (capitalism, feudalism etc.) – are that when it becomes unprofitable to (inadequately) care for the infirm (as it clearly now is) money (in terms of rental) can still be made by convincing the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the seriously ill that the way out is the market based ‘free choice’ of ‘voluntarily’ paying what little one has to permanently make the designed and imposed misery go away. The Eugenicist’s wet dream.

    The moment those with the wherewithal and access to decision makers realise money can be made from getting the useless eaters/deplorable’s to pay for their own demise you can bet the bank that the ‘holy men in frocks’ will in the HoL will either become a minority or will remain silent on the issue.

    Such realities do not alter my individual position on the matter. However, they do make me wary in a cynical kind of way.

    • Thanks Dave. On that aspect of the matter, not considered in my post, you make the point better than the Strategic Culture piece does (though the latter’s table, showing the positions of various nation-states, is useful).

      There’s a grim parallel in killer Garry Gilmore’s 1977 demand that Utah execute him. His suicide-by-state marked the end of a US moratorium on the death penalty. Abolitionists had pleaded – and prisoners ‘on the row’ had doubtless prayed – for Gilmore to drop his stance and accept a life sentence. In the event, his entirely voluntary execution opened the floodgates for the involuntary ones which swiftly followed.

      A moral maze for those who oppose capital punishment. (As I do, on practical rather than principled grounds.) But in Gilmore’s shoes – and subject to the same footnoted caveat I gave for what I’d do in Curran’s – if I had a horror of lifetime incarceration, or a belief that I should “die like a man”, I can’t be sure the implications for fellow killers under sentence of death would sway my decision.

      Like all analogies, mine has its limitations. In any case, none of what I just said negates the powerful point you make in respect of assisted dying. As I said to Margaret:

      Capitalism is a cancer, though too few recognise that its threat is existential and totalitarian.

      One aspect of that truth is that – while the two can never be wholly separated – only political ingenues confuse societal problems with personal moral imperatives.

  4. Very valid and pertinent points which I’d not thought of myself. I’ll think on what you’ve said.
    Although I am of course painfully aware of what happens to some frail and elderly people towards the end of their lives.
    I still wouldn’t rule out the Swiss option.

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