A good death

30 Jun

Obviously I should have run a mile but in typical Milk style, the other evening I sat down to watch the infamous Terry Pratchett documentary on euthanasia. I breezed through with surprisingly few tears until the final scene where you see an assisted death played out. I didn’t cry because it was horrific or wrong, I cried because the last and only death I’ve ever witnessed was my mother’s, just 2 months ago. So it was pretty raw. But I also cried because the ending of a life so stoically and peacefully was strangely beautiful.

For once my opinion is absolutely steadfast on this one. I cannot see any single legitimate reason not to legalise euthanasia in this country.

Sure there were unnatural, unnerving things about the way it was being done in Sweden, but they were all down to logistics, not morality.  Hidden away on an industrial estate forced by law out of the residential areas, a strange, artificial, psuedo-house. Not a place you would choose. Not the people you would choose. A horrible unfamiliarity. And people were choosing to go too soon, when they still had legitimate life left to live, through fear of leaving it too late.

All these points could be solved simply by allowing people to die at home, in their own country, in their own bed, surrounded by the ones they love.

I feel passionately that everyone deserves to have a good death. Noone should be forced to eek out some miserable existence, painful in spirit or in body, right to the end. To die without dignity, without personal choice; to me that is truly inhumane. 

My mum had a good death, and I am thankful every single day for that. There was no pain, no real distress, just love. My sister and I took the decision to withdraw medical treatment and my mum died a few hours later. Our decision was taken swiftly, with little of the expected agony, because we instinctively knew it was absolutely the right thing. She had told us herself hours before “I am dying, do not cry”. Had clearly accepted that it was the end, that there was no more fighting to be done.

I would want everyone to have the opportunity to pass away peacefully as my mother did. Despite the devastation and the agony of losing her, the anger that the bastard Cancer could do this and so swiftly, it is an enormous source of comfort to me that she slipped away like this. And really not so different from the man in the documentary.

There are loads of arguments given against legalising assisted dying. Let’s consider the three most popular ones.

“Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable” This is simply bollocks. This hasn’t happened in any of the countries where it has been legalised; it is based on some kind of fatalistic assumption that morality and civility will decline if you open the door just a little. Beware the Frankenstein monster.

“Euthanasia weakens society’s respect for the sanctity of life” But what about the sanctity of a peaceful death?

“Euthanasia affects other people’s rights, not just those of the patient” There’s no denying that a death makes ripples far and wide, but how much worse to watch someone you love die a slow and painful death, or to find them strung up against a tree driven to brutality through desparation?

The truth is, most people will cling to life even when there is little hope. Survival is the strongest instinct there is. So in reality, and given the choice , most wouldn’t choose to die. But if an individual chooses it for themelves, with full knowledge, careful thought and freedom? Tell me what is so wrong about that?

19 Responses to “A good death”

  1. Vegemitevix June 30, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi hun, you know I agree with you. Here’s the link to the book A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir. I read it many years ago now but it still sticks in my mind. V xx http://www.amazon.com/Very-Death-Pantheon-Modern-Writers/dp/0394728998

  2. jfb57 June 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    An excellent post H. I agree with you but the concern is that not everyone has a loving family surrounding them. They may be ‘encouraged’ to go before they are ready. As long as there are measures in place to stop such things I do agree that we should have those rights.

    • marketingtomilk June 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      That is a difficult one I know, and one I didn’t tackle. But surely if there was a rigorous legal process to ascertain whether someone is making a decision independently? If the law can label you as mentally ill and section you, surely they can decide your sanity and / or whether you are making decisions freely? And if there is any doubt don’t allow it. IN the high profile cases at least it would have been an easy process to decide.

  3. Tanya (Bump2Basics) June 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    I agree with you too – I struggle to understand why people should not have the option to die with dignity at home, surrounded by those they love once their physical or mental quality of life goes beyond the point of no return. Death may be a difficult topic to discuss but enabling the option of a peaceful death when faced with otherwise is an option worth educating ourselves about.

  4. Anne June 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Beautifully written as always and brought some tears to me. I’m fully with you here, no one on earth should suffer a painful and slow death but be able to choose how to die!Euthanasia should be legalised, sadly people so desperate to end their miserable and painful life have to travel abroad and die in an unknown environment to them and most importantly their loved ones not being able to ‘assist’. I also agree with you that one’s survival instinct is very strong and nobody would easily choose to die but cling on for life with all their strength. Having been there myself I only know that my survival instinct was the only reason I’m here today and in good spirits. I appreciate life, my loved ones and everything around me more nowadays, so probably a good experience in the end. xx

  5. Amanda @gidders1 July 1, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    I’m catholic, so really I have grown up thinking/indoctrinated that euthanasia is wrong.
    This year my gran died, the way that she died has opened my eyes. I really can’t see how we can take away from another human being the rite to die. And to pass in the way they want to.
    The way my Gran died, has really crushed the family, left them with memories that are haunting them.

    So though I still have reservations – I think mostly because of my feeling of life being so sacred, of never giving up. I do however now feel that everyone SHOULD have the right to die. A x

  6. Cara July 1, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    I think your point about people going abroad for assisted deaths, and sometimes before they would do if we had a process here is a compelling case for the legalising of euthanasia. How traumatic must it be to do that for the individual and their family?

    Of course there will always be the anti-euthanasia element of society, and they play an important part in ensuring any legislation that is drawn up is robust. However, I always believe that you shouldn’t judge too harshly unless you have experienced/witnessed living with a terminal illness. Who wouldn’t ultimately want to have some control in how we end our pain and suffering?

  7. Trish@ Mum's Gone to July 1, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    This is such an important issue for us to debate and your post is such a great starting point for encouraging people to think about the issues.

    I wrote a post about the BBC programme too. I lost my father to Motor Neurone Disease in February this year but he chose not to die early but to be cared for by my mother and excellent palliative care from a hospice. The comments on my own post really helped me consider all the angles and I think my stance is that I support euthanasia but with resources to be put into palliative care (and financial support for carers) so that options are open and a dying person doesn’t feel they ‘ought to do the decent thing and not be a nuisance’.

    What can’t continue is people like Peter and Andrew having to end their lives far too early because they feel their only choice is to go to Switzerland. For me to watch Peter choose to die only a year after his MND diagnosis, when my own father amazingly lived 16 fruitful years after his, was very hard.

    Another important piece of the jigsaw is to promote the Living Will, an important document which my father filled in so that he could have some control over his death. This gives relatives and doctors some useful information about the wishes of the dying person.

  8. Muddling Along July 1, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    A really interesting post

    I’m a Catholic and whilst we are generally against euthenasia, we do pray for a ‘good death’ and its that concept that I think has been largely left out of the debate

    One thing that really resonated for me was the idea that people are doing this earlier than they want or need to because they cannot guarantee having control over their death. And the image Terry Pratchet gave of wanting to sit in a chair in his garden surrounded by the things and people he loves…

    Yes there need to be controls, yes we need to be careful that people are not taken advantage of but we do need offer people a choice and a degree of control over how they die

  9. Belgravia Wife - sort of July 1, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    I prevaricate on this, it’s a challenging one. The idea of travelling abroad to a sterile hotel is ghastly and my during father’s last few weeks he couldn’t move but he was able to communicate so do I waver as to whether we should have done anything differently. My fear is when people of whatever age are injured in an accident or develop a chronic disease often for the first enormously difficult months they would prefer to die then after a period of time with dedicated medical care and rehabilitation they go on to live life to the full albeit in a different way. If the debate is focused on the terminally ill and mentally sound I think we have to be enormously clear and candid about the control and message communicated. I would also like to see pulled in to the debate the issue of what is known as ‘end of life care’ as in those dying alone is hospital without support or family a woefully neglected area which OH has done consultant work in.

    Am I on the fence ? For the moment but thinking long and hard whilst sitting.

  10. Nataliya July 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    We watched it. I found it really disturbing. I see why people would want to do it. But I think how selfish, yet not selfish It confuses me. I know I would never do it. I’m really not sure what I think!

  11. TheBoyandMe July 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    I’m responding bit by bit as I read it. I only caught the end but I thought the final part of that gentleman’s life was also beautiful. I also sobbed, but because his wife really held it together for him right until she knew he couldn’t hear her anymore. I thought she was amazingly loving and brave.

    I agree with you that it should be legalised, but there are always going to be some people who misinterpret the guidelines and abuse the opportunity to prevent people from dying with dignity. My nan died a horrendous death from cancer; she was delusional and in severe pain in the last fortnight of her life. She had no idea who anyone was. How much kinder would it have been to just give her a little more painkiller, etc? I know my mum asked for it.

    A very brave post, good for you.

  12. Jonathan Bird July 1, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    I agree with the above – a very brave post.

    I actually lost a little boy 6 years ago…and sat there helpless whilst it all happened. I cant imagine having to ‘do something’ to end suffering, but if push came to shove…

    Well you love for a reason, and people do anything for love! And so they should!

  13. bsouth July 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Well written post. I am for voluntary euthanasia for all the reasons you give, I just could never have put it so eloquently. xxx

  14. Iota July 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Bravely written, and cogent arguments. I agree. It is hard to see how valuing life doesn’t involve valuing a good death instead of stringing everything out for a painful undignified death.

  15. mothersalwaysright July 4, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I absolutely, 100 percent, completely and utterly agree with you. A wonderfully written, brave and honest post (which also made me cry). I didn’t see the programme as I’m still very much a snivelling wreck when it comes to anything even slightly sad (still blaming the postnatal hormones) but I now very much want to watch it.

  16. mrsteepot July 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I totally agree. Watching someone you love in agonising pain, suffering is the worst thing ever. It is absolutely shocking that we’re giving rights left, right and centre for all sorts of things but people still cannot choose to die in peace.

I'm all about the debate. Would love to hear what you think.

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