I sigh with exasperation. "I need to know what your wishes are should you become unable to express them, and you're not taking this seriously!"
My husband, Raymond, and I have just enjoyed this exchange, and I am here blogging about it because I take the issue very seriously. ' What to do with me when I am dying.' That's the nub of it: a question that everyone should give thought to, preferably sooner rather than later. If the answer is, "Anything you like, I don't care." Then THANK YOU. At least I know.
This life or death issue was prompted this morning when I was catching up on some back-reading. This article is from the Leader Column of The New Scientist feom March 1st 2014:
My father died the day after his 76th birthday in August 2006. A few weeks before, he had refused palliative chemotherapy for cancer, and prepared himself for his ending in a way all his own. He announced he no longer wished to be administered insulin, and he took to a dietary regime consisting entirely of sparkling wine.
He drifted off in an alcoholic haze assisted by a diabetic coma.
It wasn't quite that simple of course. Can you imagine how easily this could have been construed as assisted suicide? I panicked.
"Dad you've GOT to write this down! " I begged. So he did. He talked to the doctor, in my absence, and gave him a copy of his wishes, duly witnessed by a bemused neighbour. What induced me to do the same, was the doctor's reaction. "This is SO helpful. If we don't know what our patients' wishes are, we go on treating disease long after we know treatment is doing more harm than good. Because we have to."
Dad laughed and joked with the vicar and planned his funeral with him. I wrote his elegy and read it to him after he'd finally slipped into a coma, and before he died.
My father had the priviledge of choosing his momemt to die and the courage to do it. I disobeyed his wishes in one respect. I asked the nurse to give him one final shot of insulin to bring him back to consciousness, and as he came to, I told him, "Dad, this is it. If you don't get another shot, you will die. Is this what you really want? He nodded, and finally, I let him go.
I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of life. But I also believe in the sanctity of death. When there is no more that can be done to stave off death, everyone should have the right my father exercised to die with dignity. This is to be truly compassionate, this is to be human. The noisy indignities and painful endings that are often the alternative, should not have a place in a civilised world. I AM NOT advocating murder, OR that which might be construed as the tidying away of the inconvenient or unwanted, I am calling for the right of rational beings to decide how they wish to manage the end of their lives.
To help my medical team and my family to let go of ME when I am past help, I have written an 'Advanced Decision' of my own. You might not choose to do it, a s Ray hasn't, but it's worth thinking about at least: