Euthanasia – To live or let die?

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Mortality is the great mystery of life.

Not knowing when your time is going to run out. Curiosity, even fear, about what our precious last moments on earth will be. And who, if anyone, will be there to share them with us.

Many of us place our faith in science, medicine and religion. Ultimately though, the only thing certain about death is at some point, we will each individually succumb to it.

In the news last week, Canada passed a legislation to legalise physician-assisted death. The new law “limits the option to the incurably ill, requires medical approval and mandates a 15-day waiting period,” it has been reported.

As a safeguard issue, the law requires that two independent witnesses be present when the patient signs a request for a doctor-assisted death. Canada is “one of the few nations where doctors can legally help sick people die” says Reuters.

Euthanasia – this subject tosses up huge ethical, moral, religious, legislative and legal questions as we continue to deal with the consequences of a demographic slide toward an aged population that medical science is determined to keep alive for longer and longer, despite the wishes of the patient and their family.

Some of you may not know, but I lost my mother earlier this year. She was a woman of huge intellect with a staunch liberal philosophy that she put to great use on a daily basis. She was an oracle of knowledge and I am forever grateful that I was able to learn from her.

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Even though I often sought her advice and council on a wide range of matters, and of course, loved her immensely, for me the great relief is that she died relatively quickly and in very little pain. There would have been no greater tragedy than for her to be vegetated because her brain had exited a body that had lived on – and been kept alive – way past its use-by date.

I know using the phrase ‘use-by date’ may spark some contentious comments, but that is how I see it. The person is not alive anymore, their soul and everything you loved about them has left this world, preserving their shell will not bring them back.

We can all relate to this, we all have relatives, or know someone who has a relative, who are suffering, or have suffered, with cancer or other life-threatening diseases, and we all have stories about people we know who have suffered terribly slow and painful deaths. Disease is dreadful, and the way medical science has worked to extend lives that nature (not accident or infection) has determined should end, comes with its own ethical and moral dilemma. Don’t get me wrong, if a life can be saved or extended by science and medicine then I am all for it! My mother fought and battled with medical professionals all across the globe, and consequently extended her life from the original ‘3 months left to live’ to a wopping nine years.

Some of my fondest memories of my mum are from these precious nine years we were so luckily given. However, towards the end my sister and I were questioning on a daily basis the quality of her life. We slowly started to see the detrimental effects of years of treatment, chemo and radiation slowly take its toll on her beautiful body.

It made me think, with our pets, when we see them suffering and struggling what do we do? We take them to the vets, and we are promptly told: “The kindest thing to do is to put them down and end their suffering”. If we kept them alive, pumped them with drugs then we would be seen as cruel by those around us. Now, I’m not saying we should compare animals with humans, that would be absurd, but it does make you think doesn’t it? Shouldn’t quality of life and dignity come into the equation?

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Even taking the aforementioned points out of the equation, surely it comes down to choice? Having the choice to end your life, or refuse care, is a human right, surely? We may not all agree with this, suicide has ripped apart family after family, but to deny someone of the right of control over their own life, I’m not sure that is something I can stomach.

And this is the dilemma. I have no doubt that medical professionals working in the palliative care sector do make decisions “in the best interests of the patient’s comfort”, but what about those dying without dignity at home, or in a hospital that doesn’t have a palliative care ward? As our population ages, I believe that we will see many more husbands, wives and friends posing the question of euthanasia. We could start to see greater incidences of mercy killings and suicides as the elderly determine how they will end their days – and with whom.

I can hear you all asking, how will the courts deal with an 85-year-old man who has, in effect, murdered his terminally ill wife? How will parliament deal with a growing constituency that demands the right, under certain circumstances, to determine their own fate? And how will those who are young, fit and healthy for a brief moment in time, judge their parents and grandparents who had made a decision in love, but seen as selfish as those who do not have the maturity or empathy to understand?

Personally, I don’t have the answer. But they are questions to issues that hopefully, sooner rather than later, we will have answers for.

My Boudica.

mama

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One thought on “Euthanasia – To live or let die?

  1. From a medical standpoint, most UK hospitals (from my experience) should have access to a Palliative Care Team, with access to experienced doctors and nurses that can review patients or advise regarding their care.

    With regard to passing away at home; patients in Greater Manchester are offered a choice between hospital/hospice/home and are discharged with appropriate district nurse follow up to ensure they are getting the help they need for symptom control. They can also receive care packages to help family members cope with looking after their loved ones when their needs have exceeded what they can offer. Macmillan are also amazing at helping during this time.

    I recommend the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – I’ve recently read it and its inspired me (along with my own experiences on the wards) to persue a career in Palliative Medicine. It talks about some of the ideas you’ve discussed here – quality of life and how long life should be prolonged for, as well as catering to the needs of an ageing population.

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