‘At the heart of the debate above assisted dying is respect for patient autonomy.’ Photograph: Joanne O’Brien/Alamy
Last year my brother killed himself. He was 60 and struggling from terminal cancer. He had been exceptionally match and powerful until the condition struck, but by the time of his death he was breathless and the spread of the cancer to his spine meant he could only crawl close to the home. He knew the end was near and, in spite of the help of an excellent palliative care staff, he felt he’d had adequate. He wanted manage over his death and, in the absence of assisted dying legislation, he knew he would have none. He took the only way out that he could see. He was located at the bottom of a flight of stairs, getting unsuccessfully tried to hang himself.
Soon Lord Falconer’s bill will come prior to the Property of Lords. With upfront safeguards, it would permit assisted dying for those of sound thoughts who are terminally ill, and have a settled wish to die, a modify that numerous come to feel is lengthy overdue. Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat care minister, is just the latest high-profile politician to say he will assistance this alter.
The law requirements to alter since not all suffering can be adequately relieved. Dying can even now be messy, unpleasant and undignified, despite what the palliative care physicians tell us. The availability of assisted dying is not just about relieving the unbearable physical suffering of some patients in their last days it will also handle the dread many will knowledge as they anticipate those ultimate days.
As the law stands, terminally unwell sufferers know they will have no manage above their own death and live with the very real worry of uncontrolled symptoms and reduction of dignity. Assisted dying would help by giving sufferers the prospect of management and selection when it genuinely mattered so that they could encounter death with greater equanimity. In Oregon, in which assisted dying is legal, only one in 200 of those who inquire about it avail themselves of it. The information that it is accessible is generally comfort sufficient.
Some reject the thought of legislation on assisted dying simply because they think the matter ought to be left in the hands of the patient’s GP, who will discreetly supply the essential dose of ache relief when the time comes. I know a GP who gave a terminally unwell patient an appropriate dose of morphine to get him by means of the evening. The patient died shortly thereafter and the family members accused the GP of killing him. He was arrested, taken to the police station and formally charged. The story was in the nearby papers, and it took him much more than a yr to clear his name. Numerous GPs are understandably afraid to give ample doses of pain relief, and it is not honest to fudge the concern by exposing them in this way.
But at the heart of the debate more than assisted dying is respect for patient autonomy. I have observed a profound adjust in the romantic relationship amongst individuals and medical doctors considering that I qualified. Benign paternalism has gone and doctors are taught to respect the appropriate of sufferers to select even when we will not agree with their choice. So why in the matter of death and dying do we revert back to that previous paternalism – the “physician knows ideal” frame of mind of my healthcare youth? We do something we by no means do otherwise – we presume we know greater than the patient. Why need to we doctors have the appropriate to deny patients their greatest patient decision?
My brother was exceptionally brave. He did not want to suffer as he had observed other people endure, and he found his personal escape from an intolerable predicament. But in performing so he died alone and afraid. He could have died at a time of his picking with his loved ones all around him but the law did not let him that option. That law is cruel and barbaric, and we now have an opportunity to alter it.
A poor death implies not only struggling for the patient but a cruel legacy for people left behind. Out of respect for my brother’s memory and for the sake of the many dealing with the exact same scenario, allow us legislate for assisted dying for the mentally competent, terminally ill patient. It may even be ourselves a single of these days.