‘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