Assisted dying and the removal of all hope
We were surprised to see Polly Toynbee infer from the Gosport hospital deaths (, 25 June) that what we need is assisted suicide. But we were also surprised to see palliative medicine characterised as “a heavily Christianity-based culture”. Not that many of us are Christians these days, and the blog she cites doesn’t speak for us any more than DFS speaks for people who sit on sofas.
No, if palliative medicine doctors have something in common it’s the privilege of meeting people living with life-shortening illnesses, and one facet of that privilege is seeing so many of them come through times of despair to find their – not ours, not anyone else’s – new meaning and new hope.
So it’s OK to joke about Dr Shipman, as Toynbee’s mother did, but the thing about death is that you don’t get to explore any meaning and hope afterwards. And it’s fine to talk about choice, but that is exactly why a decision that will take away any future choice that a person might have had is something we should be reluctant to accept.
We should learn from Gosport, but not this. Hastening death never was a part of good medicine and it hasn’t suddenly become one now.
Dr Idris Baker Chair, committee, Association for Palliative Medicine
Dr Iain Lawrie Vice-president, Association for Palliative Medicine
• Polly Toynbee does not fully address the issue of patients who become incapacitated. Thousands die from strokes each year, but many comatose patients are helped to their end by withdrawing feeding tubes and hydration. Morphine must be more humane.
King’s College London
• My mother, sane, more or less, was 93 and had a permanent pain, untreatable due to her weak heart, so she stopped taking all her pills, and food, and died of heart failure after 10 days. Since most very elderly folk rely on pills, especially heart pills, stopping taking them was an easy way to go.
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