Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Dimbledy Lecture: Assisted Death

Yesterday evening I watched one of the most thought-provoking and emotional BBC television programmes ever.

The late Richard Dimbledy, who died of cancer many years ago, was a much respected television personality. Two of his sons carry on where he left off, and last night the BBC broadcast "The Dimbledy Lecture" - and what a great lecture it was.

The author Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame has a form of Alzheimers. He has made public announcements to this effect. He has donated $1million to an Alzheimer charity. He does not want to succumb to this disease but has - at the moment - no choice.

He wrote this lecture. Brilliantly. However, because the disease prevents him from reading for more than a short time his friend, the actor Tony Robinson, delivered the lecture. Again, brilliantly.

The hour long lecture centred on "the right to die when one chooses". Terry P does not like the term 'assisted suicide' and uses 'assisted death' instead. He puts his case clearly and strongly.

I agree with everything I heard.

When life becomes intolerable, when the prognosis is a lingering decline and death, when an incurable disease makes life a living hell, then the sufferer should be helped by the medical profession to slip away. To die peacefully with dignity.

I see nothing but good coming from this lecture. We would not allow a sick cat or a dog to shrivel away over weeks, months and sometimes years. We consider that cruel, yet we inflict such trauma on our fellow humans.

What do YOU think?


The Bug said...

When my mother was dying of cancer, once we reached the point where we knew there would be no miracle, she basically starved to death. She was at home, with Hospice help, and did not receive any artificial nutrition. They just kept her comfortable.

I didn't live near my parents - I had visited for a weekend when the doctor said the end was near - but she was putting on her makeup when I left (a valiant effort on my behalf). A couple of weeks after that she was gone.

My dad fully supports assisted death. He did before my mother died & that experience only reinforced his feelings.

Susan said...

Tricky subject. But I believe that with all of our medical technology, sometimes we prolong life beyond what is "normal" to begin with.
I think it is a decision that needs to be made on an individual basis - by the dying individual. But letting nature takes it's course seems only.... well, natural. If one is already dying, where is the wrong in allowing them to die - minus the additional suffering?!
Great thought provoking post.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Having worked in the veterinary field for thirty years, and assisting with many a euthanasia, I have come to believe, that if there is no hope, just suffering, it is indeed an accepted practice.
It's a horrendous sight to watch a loved one suffer, I hope I never have to make that decision.

PhilipH said...

Thank you Bug for your honest comment. So awfully sad to have to starve yourself deliberately to death - which must be agonising for all concerned. It's just not humane, is it.

Susan, yes it IS tricky and once was taboo to even mention it, but we seem to be moving in a somewhat more mature way of confronting 'death' and 'dementia'. In Victorian times they seemed to have legal access to powerful drugs, like laudanum (opium tincture) which, being morphine based, could soon bring a peaceful end to suffering. Still available but only on prescription.

Tennessee Belle ;-) Thanks so much. Your experience in the vet field illustrates how we treat our pet animals much more sympathetically than, perhaps, their ailing owners! We say a fond farewell to Flossie the Labrador when her suffering makes us weep but we insist on keeping her devoted owner alive on pills, surgery and other advanced therapies which, generally speaking, do more harm than good. I hope 'assisted death' soon becomes legal in our civilised society.

A human kind of human said...

Oh Phillip, this is such a difficult subject to discuss. It is one of those things where your emotions tell you one way but your believe system insists on another way. As you know, I am a committed Christian and as such I do believe that no human has the right to take his own or another's life. However, I believe that it is extremely cruel (and my believe system supports this) to artificially prolong a persons life when they are suffering, whether it is by means of medical support systems or medication. My friend (and mentor) were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and received treatment. The cancer was cured/in remission but then flared up again. She then (a committed Christian herself) called her immediate family together and explained that she does not want treatment again as she is ready to meet her Maker. Of course they were extremely upset but respected her wish. The only medical assistance she received after that was to relieve pain. I lived through the last weeks of her life with her and I have decided that if ever I find myself in a similar situation, that is the path I also want to follow.

Pauline said...

Having watched both my parents die extremely painful and inevitable deaths from incurable cancers, with nothing but ineffective (at the end) painkillers against the ravages of self-starvation, I came to the conclusion that we are an inhumane species when it comes to helping our own kind. Assisted death is a kindness and should be a duty for those meant to help heal. Sometimes death is the only cure.

Shadow said...

i certainly do not want to be kept alive with medication, in pain, unable to live a quality life. the burden on the family too, is great, and not necessary. it taints the beautiful memories of those left behind... i'm with 'assisted death'.

PhilipH said...

Human: You're quite right, it IS a difficult subject - especially for those who have strong religious beliefs - irrespecitive of which diety is involved.

Terry Pratchett is a 'humanist' and does not believe in some almighty omniscient being - and thus finds it easy to put forth his views and possible solutions to this problem of assisted death.
Many staunch Christians will have trouble in supporting such discussions, but not all of them. I think of our 'human rights' more than anything to do with religion, which come in all shapes and sizes. Humanity fits all, don't you think?

Pauline: I am so sorry to read your account of your parents' sad demise. Your story is one of millions no doubt - and the situation needs to be constantly addressed.

Death is, as you say, sometimes the only cure. And often the kindest cure.

PhilipH said...

Shadow: Welcome to the club! Hope your views are shared by many more.
On the BBC website 'Points of View' I contributed (favourably) re the Dimbleby Lecture programme shown a couple of evening ago. There was but one dissenting view expressed on that thread; a most encouraging result of the programme.

A human kind of human said...

Oh Phillip, I so wish I could sit down with you and discuss the whole 'human rights' issue. I am very confused about it. We have a constitution that is based on human rights, but my experience over the past couple of years of human rights are not very good in the sense that it often get out of hand especially when two humans are involved in a situation and the rights of both comes into question. I suspect the human race itself is ill-equipt to decide on when something is a right and when it is a privelege. Maybe it is just in my country that we are still struggling with this.

the walking man said...

To put it bluntly my filed advance directive gives the medical establishment 15 minutes to save my life and does not allow for more than 1/2 hour on any sort of life support. My cadaver is already willed to the nearest school of medicine for whatever reason they want to use it for.

And if I come down with any chronic disease I will simply treat (prodigiously&aggressively) for the pain but not for a cure.

These are my choices and they are in writing and filed away with everyone who matters.

PhilipH said...

Human: Yes, I too think the whole 'human rights' legislation is a tangle. I meant my human rights to live and die as I feel is right. It is, after all, our individual lives and it is OUR right to do as we see fit with OUR life. The doctors, priests, lawyers or politicians have NO right to determine when my life ends. That has to be MY choice, nobody else's.
Mark: You've got it all sorted and I applaud you for that. I too am an organ donor card holder and registered as such. Not that I think my Warfarin-soaked liver will be of much use after I go but I shall not be much bothered by then!

Nicole said...

I think that allowing a person to strave to death is horrible. How can that be the only way to help/let them die? And is that not "assisting" them into death? Of course it is a much more cruel way!
I believe and always have supported assisted death.

Barry said...

Having recently been told by my oncologist to get my affairs in order while I was still feeling reasonably well, this topic is of more than academic interest to me.

I have signed Power of Attorney for Medical issues over to my wife and have left instructions strikingly similar to those outlined by Walking Man.

Brenda said...

This topic is just one example of why I try very hard to live my life in "non-judgement" of anyone. Every individual has their own circumstances that will lead them to their decisions, and I don't think any of us have the right to judge or control what that is. I doubt I would be able to watch the show you talked about here in America, but if I ever do get a chance I will. Have a great day Philip!

willow said...

I think everyone should have the right to choose. Lots of interesting comment here!

Argent said...

This is one of those areas where our moral reasoning has not yet caught up with our medical technology. Many years ago, when much of scripture and similarly influential writing and thinking was formulated, there was no real choice: you got sick, you died. End of.

Things are different now though and we have not yet really worked out how to deal with it. If we take the view that we have no right to take a (god-given) life whether our own or not, we have to answer the question: why would God want someone to continue living in relentless pain with no hope of relief apart from death? If your illness is terminal then you're bound for the pearly gates anyway, so what does it matter if you get there early? A loving god understands this, surely? Christian apologists might say that God does not will us to suffer, but that it is a result of the fallen imperfect nature of the world. Well, if he is all-knowing and all love, he will understand and not punish, surely?

PhilipH said...

Nicole, Barry, Brenda, Willow and Argent ... Thank you all for your thoughts on this once taboo topic.

I'm sure we shall have to keep addressing this question and eventually bring in legislation which is clear and unambiguous - and the sooner the better.

In the UK you leave yourself open to prosecution even if you take a loved one to Switzerland to get a lethal injection to depart what is a tortuous life for that loved one. RIDICULOUS LAW. It simply has to be changed.

I think many doctors actually feel sympathetic to assisting in the death of an incurable human - but they cannot state this publicly.

Thank you all for popping in.

nollyposh said...

Philip, Sometimes i think of course! Other times i think of the lessons i have learned through pain ...and then my mind wanders back to a video (that i watched once in bloggy worlde)of a man sitting with his Beloved dog as the vet 'put him to sleep' and my heart felt like a lightening bolt had hit it as i imagined i was the dog... Perhaps this is simply a completely individual choice x

Land of shimp said...

Philip, my son, husband and I were just discussing this subject over the weekend. A good friend of ours is waiting for her poor mother to leave this earth, and it will be long, long after she would have chosen. Long after her life had any true happiness in it. She can no longer read, she can longer watch TV, she can no longer have a conversation with the people who love her. She doesn't know who they are. It is not the Alzheimer's that is killing her, luckily she will go on before that claims her.

I think everyone should have the right to decide their own fate. Societal fear of death, and not understanding what it is like to watch someone live simply because medical technology exists to keep them alive, prevent us from honoring the wishes of those we love.

I think the choice needs to be in the hands of the individual. I think allowing people to die when there is no way to live without pain, with no hope of recovery, is something that we must grant to those who are suffering. It need not be the choice of everyone. Clearly this is not something that should ever be forced upon anyone, ever but it needs to be an option.

Our medical science has evolved. We need to evolve with it.

Jo said...

I once watched a Dutch documentary of a man who had a terminal illness, and died with assisted suicide. He died with dignity, before he was able to deteriorate to the point where he was just withering away. As you say, we would not allow our pets to go through that. We call it humane when we "put them to sleep", but for some reason we allow humans to suffer.

I agree with Alane. Everyone should have the right to decide their own fat.

Shrinky said...

My father begged me to help him die. I was expecting my third child at the time, and I'm ashamed to admit the fear of serving jail time prevented me from coming to his aid. He died a cruel, slow death - one I wouldn't wish on anyone.

I saw the lecture too - it moved me to tears.

fairyform said...

I agree with that it is more humane to let a loved one pass with dignity, especially if his life is tormented by agony due to an illness. Painful as this is for us, it is an act of respect and love for him as well. I think that the reason why we're having great difficulty in carrying it out is because we are more concerned for our own consciences and fears instead of our loved one's plight and/or concerns.

Land of shimp said...

*yells down the well*

"Philip....where are you? Are you down there? Do you need a bucket?"


PhilipH said...

Hi Milady,
Sorry, been a trifle lax of late. I think it's this continuing SAD winter or sumfink like dat, innit.

Hopefully, somebody will be dragging me up from this dark and dank old well in a day or two.

Thanks for dropping by,
Regards, Phil.

Land of shimp said...

No need to apologize, Philip. I just wanted to make sure all was well for you and Pat.

Sounds like you both need an injection of Spring, that's the cure! Luckily we're getting there. Anytime you need to pulled from a well, do let me know, it's one of my few useful skills. That and I can muck horse stalls. Oh, I few other things too, but primarily I can crank people up from wells, and muck horse stalls. The benefits of a Liberal Arts education.

Where was I? Never fear, Spring will find you and bring with it the sun.

Until then, beware the Ides of March. No clue why, but they've got a nasty sort of reputation.

Jo said...

Philip, where'd ya go?

I just saw a typo in my last comment. I said "Everyone should have the right to decide their own fat." Now, c'mon, that's gotta make you laugh. :-)

PhilipH said...

Hello all.

Jo, that typo was a laugh! Decide one's own fat! Butter? Lard? Beef Dripping?

I've an idea for a 'blog' which was mainly to do with YOUR blog Jo.

I'll cobble something together when I can locate one or two items that I need to complete it.

Take care,
Philip (George) H.


lovelyprism said...

I agree whole heartedly. I've always made the comparison between the way we treat our loved ones when they are "terminal" to the way we treat our animals so humanely. I watched the medical profession prolong my mother's life beyond any 'quality of life', at one point her doctor said there was no medical explanation for her to still be alive, she just refused to die. There's the difference. She wouldn't have wanted to be assisted. For my part, I would insist upon it were it legal. I thought it was selfish of her to inflict such emotional pain on my Dad and the rest of us. At the point you can't speak or do anything for yourself, you need to find a way to let go, be it assisted by mere mortals or the hand of God.