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Dignity at the end of life


Dr David Turner


‘I’ve had a wonderful life. I had an interesting career, I was married to a lovely man and now if my heart stops, I want that to be the end’.

Despite appearances, this conversation with a patient in her 90s was one of the most uplifting I’ve had in a long time.

A recent serious diagnosis led to us needing to discuss her wishes regarding her resuscitation if – or when – her heart stops.

It was honest and refreshing to hear a patient accept that their life is drawing to an end, and their reasoned acceptance of the inevitable.

 The Covid pandemic has probably made us all a bit more aware of our own mortality and if anything, good can come out of it. Maybe this will be the possibility that we can start talking more openly about death. 

In recent times, death has been more of a taboo than ever before. It seems that nobody appearing on a TV or radio interview can say ‘dying’ without prefixing it with the adverb ‘sadly’. Death isn’t always sad – often it’s the end of unbearable pain and suffering for an individual. Assisted dying is even more of a conversation stopper.

There are, of course, strong views on both sides of the debate. The times, though, are definitely changing. Last year, New Zealand passed a law making assisted dying legal for terminally ill people, while Portugal voted this year to legalise euthanasia. The UK cannot and must not be left behind in allowing a more dignified end for those suffering appalling symptoms at the end of their life.

It’s my opinion that the individual’s right to self-determination should trump all else, and that a competent adult with a terminal and irreversible disease should be able to choose the time and place of their own death. As the law currently stands, this would mean such an individual getting themselves to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland – an option only available to a few.

Like many doctors, I’m a supporter of the Dignity in Dying campaign, and would urge others to push for a change in the law to allow assisted dying in the UK.

Many MPs, including health secretary Matt Hancock, already support a change in the law around assisted dying. So if you do support the aims of Dignity in Dying, please do contact your MP to get them on board.

I believe we genuinely do owe this to our patients.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London

READERS' COMMENTS [2]

Katharine Morrison 29 March, 2021 5:37 pm

We certainly do need to allow a peaceful death for those who want to avoid suffering a lousy death, which is a bit of a lottery when it comes to care of the dying. This is not necessarily the failure of hospices and so forth, they do their best, but some deaths are just awful. No doubt the God Squad will be up in arms about it as they usually are.

Jonathan Heatley 3 April, 2021 12:22 pm

I’m an active christian and would welcome patients at the end of their life being allowed more choice of their end. In fact we as a surgery of 7 GPs wrote to our local MP a few years ago asking him to support the assisted dying bill in parliament and although he refused to do so he did send us a hand written letter explaining his reasons. He was well meaning but did not have the experience of dying patients which usually alters the opinion from anti to pro choice.
I think the opinions are changing gradually and we will have end of life choice before too long. Just look at the changes worldwide in the two issues of marijuana legalisation and end of life. Both are becoming more acceptable as the usual arguments against both are found to be hollow.