Compassion doesn’t have to mean assisted dying

Compassion is also about providing high quality care that should be available to all.

Compassion is also about providing high quality care that should be available to all

Amidst all the politicking of a reshuffle earlier this week and the knock about over Michal Gove’s demotion and the UK’s place in Europe, Peers will today consider what should be the most serious issues facing us all – namely matters of life and death.

Just weeks after the President of the Supreme Court used a judgement to invite Parliament to reconsider the law around assisted dying, the House of Lords will do so.

In a sign of the interest in the debate, over 130 Peers have indicated that they wish to speak at second reading of the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer’s, Assisted Dying Bill.

The Bill itself, if enacted, would provide for a person who is terminally ill and has six months or less to live to seek and lawfully be provided with assistance to end their own life.

Two doctors would have to be satisfied the person was terminally ill, has the capacity to make the decision, and has a clear intent to do so. The decision would not be allowed to be made under coercion. Doctors would then be able to prescribe lethal doses of drugs.

The question we must now confront is whether it is right to proceed with this legislation or not.

Whilst having every sympathy with those calling for changes, I cannot support what Lord Falconer and others are proposing.

I start from the stand point of having seen many close friends going through the agony of seeing parents and other loved ones with various forms of cancer being told that there was no other treatment options available, counting down time until their deaths.

For those advocating this legislation, compassion means providing a ‘way out’, an option to end one’s life when all other avenues have been exhausted, bringing an end people’s suffering. Yet as the Archbishop of Canterbury has so clearly written on the subject:

“Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’. The problem with the argument above is not that it fails to show compassion, but that it fails to show enough compassion. It restricts compassion to the immediate and the personal instead of extending it to everyone. It fails to recognise the truth contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan: every person is my neighbour; every person deserves my compassion.”

The danger is that we turn compassion into a one dimensional issue, that we conclude as a society that compassion is about helping people find a way out rather than walking with them through their suffering and anguish and providing the high quality of palliative care that all should be able to access.

Just recently, research by the University of Edinburgh concluded that those who are dying and have a range of illnesses face a bewildering array of services whilst reports continue to highlight the financial difficulties being faced by the country’s hospices.

Should we not be doing more to improve these before reaching for the dangerous levers of legislation which, for all the wording in the world, would start a journey in a direction that ends the notion of doctors having a sole aim of ‘improve patients’ quality of life, not to foreshorten it’ as the British Medical Association has noted.

Also, how certain can Doctors be that a terminally ill patient has six months or less to live? Is it really an exact science? If not, how can we explain the risks of getting it wrong? The danger of the question of what if the doctors got it wrong would simply be unbearable for loved ones.

And then there is the argument, quite simply, that many elderly people, those perhaps such as the 10 per cent who in a recent Age UK poll have described themselves as being often or always lonely, feeling the pressures to end it all. However the legislation is worded the only fail save option would be not to have it on the statute book at all.

As Gordon Brown clearly argued writing for the Telegraph in 2010 whilst still Prime Minister:

“Let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law on assisted suicide might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about death.

“The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may for example feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded.”

He continued:

“I know in my heart that there is such a thing as a good death. And I believe it is our duty as a society… to use the laws we have well, rather than change them.

“The inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions – if they were in a position to end life – would be to lose something very precious.”

I tend to agree.

Also on this topic

Dying people deserve constructive debate on assisted dying, not scaremongering

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17 Responses to “Compassion doesn’t have to mean assisted dying”

  1. Scott

    I disagree. This is not just about compassion, but about choice. Obviously if someone wants to go down the palliative care route then they should be given all the means necessary to do that. But the option should be there to choose assisted dying. Faced with the prospect of spending their last days in a sterile hospital rooms surrounded by strangers, and depending on the type of illness, in so much pain and discomfort that they have to be on pain killers to the point where they are delirious and incoherent, a person might want to fore-go the last month of their life to die peacefully in their own comfortable bed at home with their loved ones, in a sober state of mind.

    I would be worth looking at the data from The Netherlands, Switzerland and other parts of the world where assisted dying (AD) is legal. Are people disproportionately choose AD over palliative care? The slippery slope argument is that if we legalise AD then nobody will choose the palliative care route and we will have a cold, callous attitude towards those near the end of their lives. But is this happening in the countries I mentioned above? I would be interested to know

  2. Stitched Together

    For me the issue of being free from coercion can never be possible once there is a shift of national mindset on whether it is possible to choose AD as an option. Once that door is opened, even if there is no explicit coercion from family members there is a subtle form of pressure placed on the sick by the expectations of society as a whole that you wouldn’t want to suffer and force your loved ones to watch you go through it. As someone who suffers a great deal of pain and has laid in a hospital bed hooked up to morphine several times I know how hard it is to look at your loved one’s and their pain whilst they watch you suffer. Even knowing I wasn’t going to die it was hard to see their emotional pain. I can’t begin to imagine how much greater that feeling would be if I knew I was going to die and AD was possible. I know that once that is on the table there will be an overwhelming pressure to spare loved ones the emotional pain, even if you would be prepared to suffer the physical pain in order to spend a few more days with them. Once that thought is there, it is very very hard to unthink it. Therefore there will ALWAYS be coercion if AD is a legal option.

  3. rat man

    Having been in hospital recently, and having family be there to support me, all the compassion in the world didnt stop me being in pain.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury’s words are nonsense, as if someone “suffering with me” makes it any more pleasant, as if someones compassion actually helps *ME* to stop being in agony.

  4. swatnan

    Its also about respecting peoples dying wishes, and if they want to go, then let them go with peace and serenity in their souls, and with dignity.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    “Also, how certain can Doctors be that a terminally ill patient has six months or less to live?”

    I agree the language there is problematical. I actually (the stars are right, or something) agree with Boris the wording should be tightened up.

  6. treborc1

    And if somebody cannot say what they want, after say a massive stroke, who then decides and then how long before the cost, two doctors one says to the other the cost the NHS cannot afford it….

    Dangerous game

  7. treborc1

    But we all know the risk, when will it be the cost of the treatment, the cost of the care, we are already seeing massive cuts, look what happen with ATOS they helped cut the cost of disability, 11,000 people took their lives according to the DWP, that’s no joke.

  8. treborc1

    I suffer and have done so for ten years what is classed as Continuous Chronic pain, it never stops and sadly I will I suspect end my life but it will be my decision not two doctors thinking it would be best to save money for the best interests of the NHS.

  9. treborc1

    It’s a real worry and if this does get the go ahead then sadly a lot of elderly patients ill patients will not want to enter hospitals or care homes just in case.

  10. Samuel Miller

    Euthanasia is increasingly viewed by debt-ridden, industrialized nations
    as a panacea to their aging and infirm populations. Don’t be fooled by
    Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. Euthanasia is destined to be
    introduced under the guise of compassion and choice; a euthanasia law
    was recently passed in my hometown province of Quebec. Lethal injection
    was obfuscatorily termed “medical aid to die.” (An Ipsos Marketing
    survey found only one-third of Quebecers understood this meant a lethal
    injection.) It is a cost-saving mechanism: The economic argument in
    favour of euthanasia regards the elderly, sick and disabled as all cost
    and no benefit—and it is designed to save the government monies in
    benefits provision and elderly care costs.

    People in Britain should be asking: Have we forgotten so soon the lessons of the Liverpool Care Pathway scandal?

    (Montreal, Quebec)

    P.S. I’m currently watching online the 10-hour debate on assisted suicide in the House of Lords.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    I am not arguing against the idea, I am saying the wording needs to be tightened up in some places – that’s my concern here.

    ATOS is really a separate issue. (And an appalling one, but seperate)

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Hence the need for decent safeguards – either a properly filed living will, or a witnessed, notified declaration by the person.

  13. treborc1

    Well you have trust in governments, I do not how long before the two Doctors decide a person life status because it costs to much they need the bed.The cost will come into it and when it people like me who like life although suffering I still do nowt want governments deciding I cost to much or whether ATOS would have the task of deciding whether I live or die. slippy ladder.

  14. treborc1

    But ATOS shows us how far governments will go to make things work the way they want them, 11,000 people have died because of those Tw*ts and I do not care what people say in the future once it’s set in law it will quickly change to be the decision of the doctors the Governments or somebody like ATOS

  15. treborc1

    I totally agree the biggest issue in the NHS is bed blocking by the elderly as cuts now take over Care homes close and people who have nowhere to go, how simple it would be to decide life and death on the cost of a bed.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Complete scaremongering rot. The “die in pain” lobby is frankly nasty.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    No, it’s precisely because I *don’t* that I want rules. Currently, there is no good guide to how to handle things, and people are resorting to extreme measures, and sometimes endangering others. Keep demanding people are kept in pain regardless of their condition – next you’ll be talking about prosecuting people for suicide again, etc. (hey, your logic!)

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