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Book review: 'The Dying Keats: A Case for Euthanasia?' by Brian Livesley

'A moving reminder that today’s care of the terminally ill can be little better than in the last days of the Romantic poet' says Robert Jaggs-Fowler.

The Dying Keats was written for the 20th Biennial Keats' Memorial Lecture in 2009. With 50 years of experience of caring for the elderly and the dying, its author, Professor Brian Livesley, has successfully researched and crafted a succinct argument for improved medical care for the dying; drawing on the distressing death of the 19th century poet and apothecary, John Keats, in order to illustrate how doctors so often fail their dying patients.

Keats died at a young age from tuberculosis. Denied drugs such as opium to ease his terminal suffering, he experienced distressing symptoms up to his death; causing him to describe his final days as ‘this posthumous life of mine'. Livesley describes this as the ‘Keatsian Experience' and compares it to euthanasia in the truest sense of its meaning; that being ‘a good and comfortable death'.

As the author points out, it is astonishing that today's care of the terminally ill is often little better than that experienced by Keats; believing this to be due to the reluctance of doctors to consider death as a diagnosis that requires treatment, and reminding us that ‘dying should be a humane experience for us all'. A thought-provoking read for all clinicians.

Score: 8/10

Dr Robert M Jaggs-Fowler is a Principal GP and PCT Medical Director in North Lincolnshire

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