When I first met my husband he described me as a ‘one-woman war machine’ on account of the fact that I was feisty and I pretty much got things done if I decided that I wanted to and if I didn’t want to do something then it was nigh on impossible to make me budge. I would not suffer fools, I would rarely take ‘No’ for an answer and I was a proper Little Miss Bossy Boots.
Without wishing to be too depressing this week I have, understandably, recently been reflecting on the death of my father and not just that of my own father but also several other current situations that are affecting those close to me as cherished loved ones of friends take a turn for the worst.
Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. There are different euthanasia laws in each country.
The term Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word euthanatos which essentially translates as easy death.
Assisted suicide and Euthanasia are currently prohibited in the UK by section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961.
The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage, assist or be complicit in any act of suicide or suicide attempt in England and Wales and anyone found or proven to have aided in suicide could face up to 14 years in prison.
The issue of whether to allow Euthanasia/Assisted death has been at the centre of numerous debates for many years in various countries. The subject of Euthanasia is steeped in controversy, with religious, ethical and moral dilemmas, not to mention some practical considerations.
To date, hundreds of UK citizens have travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their lives and despite numerous appeals in the previous years, the law currently remains unchanged in the UK.
Euthanasia and Assisted Dying are STILL against the law in many countries.
So, what really is the fundamental issue here?
Naturally, at the very centre of these debates are the many different principles that the populace have about the meaning and value of human existence and the big question as to whether human beings should have the right to decide on matters of life and death?
Some people abhor the idea purely on religious grounds; the sanctity of life, that it is against God’s will, that personal suffering, even that in the lead up to death is all part of God’s plan.
Pope John Paul II “It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.”
Others believe that it could open the floodgates for a gradual acceptance of decisions over who should live and who should not and perhaps a reintroduction of future eugenics or genocide.
Whilst taking into immense consideration the many ethical reasons why Euthanasia is still outlawed in many countries, it does beg the question if the current ban is only really fitting for those who have any religious beliefs?
Surely if you do not practice religion yourself then many of these arguments are easily dispensed with and that being the case then certainly there is a large percentage of the population who are not being listened to or catered for.
Why when so many people are lobbying for a far more humane way to end the suffering of those that we love, are the powers that be, still completely deaf, dumb and blind to any such change?
Why in an overpopulated world, where health services are being stretched to their limits, is it not the sensible and conscientious thing to do to allow people to make their own decision as to whether they wish to continue to be a burden on the medical services?
Why can’t people simply choose how and when they die?
Having spent five agonising days, helplessly and needlessly watching my father die, effectively by dehydration and organ failure I am just one of the millions of people who feel that a change is long overdue.
My father had prostate cancer which had metastasized, it would have eventually killed him but not for quite some time.
Instead, his untimely demise, at the age of 64, came about because he suffered kidney failure on account of his cocktail of medication and the fact that it made him too nauseous to eat and drink sufficient amounts to help his body absorb the combination of drugs. In the space of just a few days, he went from feeling pretty ok to winding up in the Palliative care ward. There was little they could do to mend his failed kidneys and knowing his feelings on prolonged and excessive future medical intervention, his overseeing doctor chose to allow this to be his final visit to the hospital.
I can not fault the Palliative care team at all. They did everything they could within the legalities to both care for him and to allow his demise. They stopped nourishment and fluids as soon as they realised the situation was beyond hope. They upped his pain relief so that he remained unaware of the ravages that this would take upon his body and then all we could do was hope and pray that it would not take too long for his body to catch up with what we all, already knew.
Sadly, despite his fait accompli, he was a strong and relatively fit chap, with a steady heartbeat and thus it took five whole days for his body to eventually surrender the fight.
Five days of watching them suction his mouth out because he couldn’t swallow.
Five days of seeing his lips crack and his tongue bloat from the effects of total dehydration.
Five days of hearing fluid rattle on his chest, in his lungs.
Five days of torture, witnessing someone you love slowly die.
The conflicts in those anguished hours, could they have saved him? Was it really the end? If they nourished him now would he suddenly bounce back? He seems so strong and healthy? Could he fight it? Have they made a mistake?
Then eventually the relief when the end came and we were finally able to grieve. To grieve the passing of our beloved father. To grieve what we had known for five days was coming yet were powerless to either prevent or speed up.
In the course of that five days, I was able to speak to my father just once. He was last awake four days before he died. We were ushered out of the room, whilst the nurse assisted to him, things she said that we would “probably prefer not to see”. When she was finished she came to tell us that he was awake.
We all hurried back to his room, he was sat up looking a little confused as to why we were all there. We said hello and kissed him. He said hello to my husband and wondered why he wasn’t in France. He asked for a drink and I gave him a little bit of water which he struggled to swallow. My brother asked how he was feeling. There may have been a bit more dialogue, to be honest, I can’t really remember but I do remember looking him in the eye and asking him if he was scared.
“A bit” he replied, I nodded and held his hand and said “Don’t be. We’re all here” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. He laid his head back and within moments he had fallen into a morphine-induced sleep again.
I didn’t know if they were the right words to say or not.
My brother and I had a private conversation as to what we might say to Dad when/if he awoke again.
Was he aware of why he was in the hospital?
Did he know why we were all there?
We discussed if we should try and convey to him that he was dying and to not be afraid.
My brother was initially reluctant to do this.
I reassured him that Dad was a pragmatic person and that if the opportunity arose to be candid we should do so, in order that we could effectively say our goodbyes rather than regret any such opportunity passing us by.
I kept having a recurring thought about one of our father’s favourite films, ‘Soylent Green’ a 1973 sci-fi film set in the year 2022. I’ve still never watched it but my father has described the death scene, Sol’s Euthanasia, to me vividly on many occasions, the huge cinema screen showing a field of bobbing flowers, the uplifting classical music accompanying the images of the oceans, waterfalls, beautiful sunsets, all the most majestic sights of the Earth and the lethal injection that would peacefully, gracefully end it all.
I was certain that telling him would be the right thing to do.
After a time of reflection my brother agreed that if he should wake again, we would tell him and comfort him after which, my brother broke down and admitted that he would actually prefer it if our Dad didn’t wake up again. I was inclined to agree with him, knowing how heartbreaking it would be.
As it was, it was a scenario we were spared from, for he never woke again.
Our few words of earlier that day would forever be the last ones we had.
We did, of course, talk to him many more times after that but sadly he was unable to respond.
During the course of the next ninety hours, we spent most of them gathered around his bed. We talked to him, we told him stories, we talked amongst ourselves, we listened to music, when we left the room we told him where we were going, when we returned we told him where we’d been, what we’d been doing, if he’d missed out on a particularly good pint of Guinness at the local pub (it’s utterly necessary to have the odd break here and there, else you would go completely mad). It was all very bizarre, but also in some ways very normal, we sort of got used to the situation, being there, talking to a silent, unresponsive Dad.
Sometimes we completely forgot ourselves and the situation and had very normal, mundane conversations around his bed, sometimes we joked and laughed, it was not always terrible, mournful or heartbreaking but it was very surreal and no one really had a clue how to behave. An endless stream of wonderful doctors and nurses were constantly in and out, relating stories of his previous visits to the hospital, how cheeky our lovely father was, all whilst they went about the business of checking his morphine drip, adjusting his oxygen, taking his pulse, checking for any change. It was not just a job to them, they genuinely cared.
I cannot imagine that anyone could work in the Palliative care ward without genuinely caring.
Then on day five, there was a change in his breathing and the pretty nurse on duty told us the end was imminent.
We gathered again around his bed, I sat on one side and held my father’s right hand, my brother stood the other side and held his left. My husband stood behind me with one hand on my shoulder, the other clamped over his mouth as the tears streamed down his face, my brother’s heavily pregnant fiancée (now his wife) stood beside my brother with her arms around him, her face buried into his shoulder. Despite that we had known for five days that this was the outcome we were suddenly overcome with a deep sadness that had not been present in the few hours prior to it, as I said the situation had become so normal up to that point, sitting in Dad’s hospital room chatting away to him. Suddenly we had the stark realisation that the situation had come to an end.
He would leave us and in turn, we would have to leave his side, leave this room after which we would never see him again.
I couldn’t bear to think that the final sounds my Dad would leave this existence to would be the sounds of our sobbing so I started to speak.
“It’s ok Dad, you can leave us now. Don’t be scared. We’re all right here and we’re going to look after each other. We love you but it’s time for you to go”
Or at least if not exactly that, then something very much along those lines.
I repeated it a couple of times. It made me feel better, though I was painfully aware that for the other three people in the room, it made them cry even more but I was the only one capable of saying anything at this point and again I just took it upon myself to do so. I didn’t really have time to ask anyone else if that was ok and we hadn’t really prepared at all for this moment, even after five days of waiting, it was an utter shock.
I, of course, fully understand that we would have had this moment whether he had lasted just one day or ten. This is the moment in which you finally let go of the person you love but the five days beforehand have since provided me many sleepless nights as I have lain awake thinking about it all.
For some people, this period is even longer and more torturous and I can’t believe that anyone who has endured such a situation can believe that it is right, that it is just.
NOBODY should have to be subjected to such an ordeal.
NOBODY should have to witness such a dreadful drawn out end.
NO BODY is just a body.
EVERY BODY is special to someone.
It is almost barbaric to think that this or travelling to one of the two European countries (Switzerland or Germany) where Assisted suicide is currently legal, in your final days are the only options available to us.
According to statisticbrain.com :
|Total percentage of medical practitioners that support Euthanasia||54%|
|Percent of public who support euthanasia for the terminally ill / on life support||86%|
With this amount of support, it is wholly unthinkable that in a day and age when we can have our pets put to sleep with a single, gentle but lethal injection that we still can not provide a similar level of dignity, care and peace to our most beloved family members.
The Virtual Recluse
“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen