Friday, July 18, 2014

Why 'assisted dying' will erode care for the dying

Matthew Schellhorn has written a very touching short piece on the Assisted Dying Bill, in light of his care for his mother, who died after a long illness.

'I am so glad I did not have to discuss the Assisted Dying Bill with my terminally ill mother. I think that if my mum had lived to know about this Bill it might well have destroyed all our happy experiences. I think she would have been terrified to know that the same doctors so keen to see her enjoying life, even in a limited way, might be perfectly willing to help her to end her life, should she have so chosen. It would have destroyed the relationship of trust to know that there were no boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients. And it would have demoralised her carers, who together worked towards making life comfortable, to think that their efforts might be considered futile. '

Read the whole thing on the Care Not Killing website.
The death of St Joseph

All who live must die. The sentence of death on the human race after the Fall is not only a punishment, it is a bond of solidarity we have with everyone who has gone before, and will come after us. Our Lord willingly submitted to it, though sinless; Our Lady too, according to the Western tradition, suffered death. Our final hours, days, weeks and months is part of our life, and with a protracted illness (when we know we are dying) it can be among the most significant parts. We experience the compassion and love of others in a unique way when we are helpless and suffering. The dying have a unique opportunity to prepare for death, which can include reconciliation with others, leaving a lasting legacy of restored relationships.

What Lord Falconer and his supporters want to do is to shuffle the dying off in a hygenic and out-of-the-way manner, like the 'unwanted' pregnancy or the disabled. The dying are inconvenient, inefficient, and embarrassing. They remind us of our failings of compassion, and they remind us of our mortality. That is exactly why a healthy society needs them.

What is going to happen, if a Bill like this becomes law, is the systematic bullying of the dying into thinking they are doing us a favour by consenting to 'assisted dying', being killed. It has got very little to do with making them comfortable or giving them dignity. It will loom on the horizon as soon as old age becomes accompanied by illness. It will forshorten all life's pleasures, expectations, and relationships. It will take away all sincerity and trust between the dying and the medical profession. It will frequently be done to patients who are not, in any meaningful sense, either dying or suffering. It will become a conveyor belt, with scant concern for dignity or even pain control. If life is not respected, people won't be respected either. That's why the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, according to a woman who accompanied her mother there, resembles 'an execution chamber.'

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  1. During my 16 years in England, I spent three years (1995-98) working as a caregiver – living with and caring for several elderly people suffering from advanced dementia. I saw first-hand how this disease leaves its victims trapped in a truly terrifying, living hell – with no way out except fading slowly and somewhat agonizingly into a merciful death. I often felt my charges were closer to anxious zombies than human beings – and did often wonder about the ethics of prolonging life as long as possible under those circumstances.

    My time as a carer left me decidedly unwilling to experience that kind of ‘life’ myself. As such, I can say hand on heart that the day I’m diagnosed with dementia is the day I start making moves to check out. When it comes that kind of illness, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

    In fact, maybe we should be a little more like Latin America – where people appear to embrace and celebrate death rather than attempting to ignore it and lock it away behind closed doors, as westerners seem inclined to do?

    Raising awareness

    This year, I self-published The Carer, a short e-novel based on my time as a live-in geriatric nurse. Described as a “gritty urban thriller with a social conscience”, The Carer offers a “Faustian tale of elder abuse, patricide by proxy and the corrosive effects of power.” Buy The Carer for US$0.99:

    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Eastern Canada

  2. Dementia, whatever its cause, is a truly dreadful condition affecting both understanding and communication and I can imagine that if you only know the person after the disease has taken hold that they probably do seem 'closer to ..zombies than human beings'. My mother and my father's sister both suffered dementia. In my mother's case I was advised by well-meaning people that her personality would be destroyed and that it was best to accept that my 'real' mother was dead. She lived with dementia for a decade and a half and right to the end she remained the person I had always known - but handicapped. My aunt, likewise, remained the formidable woman she had always been (the local bishop who said her requiem referred to her as a true 'mulier fortis'), but again disabled by her illness. They both remained human and recognizable to those who loved and knew them and deserving of good care, not the option of being put down.