Three days ago my lovely Dad slipped away after battling prostate and lung cancer for three years. His death was peaceful and relatively pain-free thanks to our superb local hospice, and I will be forever grateful for, and humbled by, their dedication and care. But I am well aware from the experiences of family and friends that he was one of the “lucky” ones. Harrowing stories of limited support and resources, and out-dated facilities underline the need for increased funding and training, but this is only one aspect of incongruent attitudes towards care of the terminally ill.
Question: why is it considered acceptable to administer drugs to sedate and to relieve pain, knowing this can ultimately hasten death, yet deny the individual the right to choose how long that process should take?
Before he became ill, Dad used to say “they wouldn’t let a dog suffer like that” in connection with people he knew who were going through such experiences. He and I never directly discussed whether he would want the option of assisted dying: he knew I supported a change in the law to allow choice, and tacitly agreed with it. His personal religious beliefs would have prevented him making such a choice, and I respect that.
I am for all options that allow the individual to have “a good death”. This means different things to different people. I strongly feel one of the choices should be that in carefully controlled circumstances, someone who is terminally ill, and of sound mind, should be permitted to die when they are ready, and to have the comfort of knowing that should they get to the point where they have had enough of the dying process, they will have some say in the matter. It has been proven that just having this choice can bring enormous peace of mind, and the individual concerned may never actually exercise that option.
Good palliative care and assisted dying should be two sides of the same coin: each aiming to give the dying a measure of dignity, choice and self-determination. They should not be mutually exclusive. The law needs changing, and it needs changing NOW. Our legislators need to make brave and difficult decisions on behalf of us all, putting appropriate safeguards in place. In this context, allowing the option of assisted dying would be a mark of a civilised, caring and inclusive society.
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