Are You Visiting?

The author at the University of Edinburgh Anatomy Museum with the skeleton of the infamous grave robber William Burke.

Professor Joe Goldblatt

The elderly lady sitting next to me on the bus at Toll Cross gently touched my knee and asked “Are you visiting Scotland?” Upon hearing my American accent she assumed I was a tourist. I smiled and said “Actually, today I donated my body to medical science, to the University of Edinburgh, so I am now here permanently.”

She let out a long loud laugh and said “Me too!” She then explained that she had also donated her body to Edinburgh University because many years ago she applied for medical school and was unable to receive a place. She then said “Finally, I have been admitted to their medical school!” Then we both laughted.

My decision to donate my body for the advancement of medical science was an easy one as my mother had many years ago first made this decision and she was my role model. She explained to me that she hoped the medical students would enjoy and benefit from exploring her long life that included many ailments.

Although I arrived at this decision easily, it was more difficul to to have this discussion with my wife of 45 years. When I told her that when the medical school finishes with me and returns my cremains to her I would like to join my mother in a beutiful tomb in New Orleans, Louisiana, she frowned. I then invited her to join me in perpetuity in this tomb. She replied “It is too humid in Louisiana in the summer time.” I quickly replied that I would promise to bring her spirit back with me to Scotland every summer. She did not take the bait.

Several years later we found ourselves standing in a very ornate cemetery in Italy as we helped conduct the last rites for our beloved aunt. After the mourners left I looked around the cemetery and tried again to invite my wife to join me in this final resting place. She looked me straight in the eye and said “You know I do not speak italian!” Therefore, our joint journey still remains unresolved.

However, my support of the assisted dying legislation put forward by Liam McArthur MSP is firmly resolved in my mind. When my mother suffered an aneursym and called an ambulance to take her to the hospital I knew that this could be the end of her life and I was relieved that she had a living will that would help insure that her wishes would be fulfilled. In the USA a living will provides medical personel and survivors with guidance to not prolong the suffering of a dying person by resorting to extraordinary procedures.

My mother’s doctor asked to speak privately with my sister and me and he gravely told us that mama’s living will would not be respected because the ethics committee of her hospital had determined that by her phoning an ambulance to transport her to the hospital, she had expressed her wish to remain alive. We were gobsmacked at the gall of this man and these strangers who were unecessarily prolonging the suffering of our mother.

Fortunately, the doctor soon went on holiday and his association took over the role of looking after mama. Within 48 hours she died. This was accomplished quietly and I believe humanely with the increased morphine that was pumped into her failing body to remove her suffering. Her death was not only a great tragedy, it was also a relief that her suffering was over.

The new legislation for assisted dying in Scotland has received over 14,000 replies to the request for consultation and 76% of the respondents approved of the new legislation as drafted. This humane legislation has many safeguards to protect abuse of vulnerable people and the actual act of dying must be administered by the individual themselves, following approval from two physicians and a waiting period.

Therefore, I am supporting this legislation because once again this will allow individuals in our country to take responsibility for how they end their lives. I realise that many of my brothers and sisters in faith communities will have alternative views based upon their scriptures or their personal beliefs, however, I also recognise that no one is forcing or coercing anyone to assist with their own dying and therefore this is an individual decision.

Another reason I support this legislation is my desire to not just “visit” Scotland, as the lady on the bus presumed I was doing, but rather to make a significant contribution to our society by taking responsibility for how and when I wish to make my final exit. I now know that my exit will be followed by my ability to become a silent teacher after death to hopefully help advance medical science in Scotland and far beyond. And I want to through my ability to choose assisted dying to also end my suffering without causing additional suffering from my loved ones.

As the lady on the bus walked away from me at Toll Cross, she looked over her shoulder and cheerfully said “I will see you one day up at the Uni!” I smiled and nodded in agreement and then silently thought that I hoped that my admission to the medical school is later rather than soon. I also hope that I am able through the passage of the assisted dying legislation to be able to expedite my exit from life and admission to eternity to end my suffering, as one additional way of taking control of my visit to Scotland with a graceful exit, when the time is right.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. He has bequeathed his body to Edinburgh Medical School. It you would like to find out more about this programme visit and to find out more about his views on other subjects visit

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