Thursday 17 July 2014

Why I support assisted dying

I joined Dignity in Dying shortly after the death of my mother. I had shared care for her in her final years with my siblings and had watched her descend into vascular dementia, bedridden and often terrified.

Commentary has often focused on pain, but the nightmarish world of mum's dementia was mental torture: searching for lost crying babies under the bed, imagining there was a stranger in her bed, asking me to chase horses out of her room when Black Beauty was on the television, claiming she was being poisoned by carers, violently fighting the carers as they tried to wash and change her.

She cried out in pain when her almost fleshless body was  lifted in a hoist, spat out her medication and eventually pushed food and liquid away.

Clutching my hand she said, 'Why is it taking so long (to die)? Can't you help me?'

Earlier she had confided that she wished she 'hadn't woken up' after fall which had left her unconcious. Instead she had to endure a further two years when her mental and physical world shrank so that she could neither control her mind nor her body.

Despite the care of professionals and families, that period was certainly 'undignified' to say the least. Thankfully, she had signed a 'do not rescuscitate' form in the presence of a doctor during a lucid spell and her final two days were peaceful as pneumonia took hold.

We were able to play music and read her favourite poetry as we held her hand in the last hours.

However a peaceful death did not make up for two years of a living death and I wish that we had been able to let her die in her own way earlier. I feel guily about all the times I cajoled her into eating or sucking water from a wet sponge when she appeared to be doing it to please me, rather than because it was what she wanted. Joining Dignity was something I could for others in mum's position

I recognise that the issue is complex and it is not even clear that my mother's case would meet the criteria in the Bill.

I am aware of the concerns of some disability campaigners LINK about passing such a law in a period of austerity when the disabled are under attack and losing their benefits. I recognise worries about the elderly requesting assisted dying so as 'not to be a burden' and issues around unscrupulous relatives with their eyes on a legacy.

However, I am persuaded that there could be sufficient safeguards to ensure that these concerns are addressed LINK

Tomorrow the House of Lords will be voting on Lord Falconer's Bill. The sole Green Party peer, Jenny Jones, will not be present as she has a long-standing engagement to attend a 100th birthday party, but she has expressed support for the measure. In response to requests on her attitude to the Bill she said:
As a representative of the Green Party, this is an issue I take an interest in. I believe that people deserve choice, comfort and dignity in death, and would welcome any changes in law that would enable that.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that, Martin - very powerful.

Nan Tewari said...

Not an easy subject to explore as there are so many variables and viewpoints both secular and religious. Perhaps another angle may help - or possibly make things worse, but here are two immediate thoughts that spring to my mind.

Our society has enough compassion to relieve animals of their suffering. It is always said that human beings are different from animals through our ability to reason, But when we have lost that ability, what then?

As a society, we condemn torture, yet we shy away from taking a view about someone suffering torture. Whether the torture had been inflicted by another person or is coming from within, it is still torture and the suffering is just as horrendous.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that medical professionals have not been able to be trusted with the tools that they have currently had to 'ease people along'. There has been case after case of the Liverpool Care Pathway being misused and DNR certificates being misapplied. Most famously they gave a young man with down syndrome a DNR certificate as the doctors perceived his life to hold less worth than any other person. This leads into all the MENCAP Death by Indifference reports. Wolf Wolfensberger wrote a powerful essay on 'death making', ultimately (irrespective of the right to choose in specific circumstances) the more power these people have to make these decisions, the more people will die who shouldn't have.

Meg Howarth said...

Outcome of today's (10hr) debate: 'House of Lords evenly split over assisted dying legislation

Most of comments seem in favour.