I Thought Euthanasia Was Illegal

It is fair to say that I don’t often read something in the Guardian Family section that makes my blood run cold but this was an exception.

Take the opening paragraph:

You will never read this. It is possible that someone may read it to you, and as hearing is supposed to be the last thing to go, you may listen. It is five weeks since they decided not to prolong your death any more, and to give you only water, no food, into the tube that goes into your stomach. Five weeks. You are 94 and nobody expected you to be so strong, after being attacked by the strokes or whatever it was that have left you unable to swallow, to speak, to move any part of your body, even your head. There you lie, stoic, waxy and sunken, with just your eyes occasionally open searching into mine, and the occasional muffled sound in your throat, which I think means that you recognise me and are trying to greet me.

There can often be a case for not trying to medically prolong a miserable life and I personally think the case is one such. However, in such cases the patients should be given medication to keep them comfortable. And surely there is a huge difference between withholding medication and withholding food? The former is a decision not to prolong life, the latter is a decision to terminate it. To euthanise, which I am given to understand is illegal in the UK.

It would be illegal for the writer or the medical staff to give her mother a morphine overdose and a quick death. It would be illegal to ship her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland (who in any event might not give euthanasia as she is not able to give informed consent) but it is legal to condemn her to a long, drawn-out death. Something wrong somewhere.

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5 Responses to “I Thought Euthanasia Was Illegal”

  1. RS Says:

    And surely there is a huge difference between withholding medication and withholding food? The former is a decision not to prolong life, the latter is a decision to terminate

    Well that’s debatable. Stopping someone breathing is murder usually but mechanical ventilation is a medical intervention. Artificial feeding is similar. (I haven’t/can’t read that article at the moment). As it happens you can last a very long time withou food, without water less so but even then the usual approach in terminal cases (liverpool care pathway) is to withold all but mouth wetting fluids (personally I tend to disahgree with the latter but not the former)

  2. Michelle Says:

    A more pertinent question to ask is who made the decision to put in the feeding tube in the first place. Hint: it’s not the medical staff that sign the consent form.

    Just me, but discussions about Euthanasia should include discussing medical decision making. A very similar thing happened to my grandmother and when she was admitted the very last time we all discussed it, they could have done interventions but we made the decision taking into consideration what her health had been like, and what we think she would have wanted. We opted just to keep her comfortable, and she was started on morphine and quietly slipped out of life the next day. If we’d said do everything, the doctors would have been obliged to follow that. It was our decision at the end, the doctors just gave some options to choose from. This is something society must look at, because this leads to having to make what are very hard decisions like ceasing tube feedings that are sustaining life when otherwise the person would have died. Unfortunately, however hard it is to read written down like that, there is a time when you have to say further intervention is futile and it’s time to stop it and just provide whatever palliative care is required until the end.

    I’d urge society to have that debate before getting to Euthanasia, to talk about the end of life. Not going in there and stopping it, but how to plan and how to decide what’s best at this time.

  3. Neuroskeptic Says:

    If I ever get into that state I’d very much hope that people would have the guts to just kill me quickly rather than letting me starve to death for the sake of political correctness.

    Seriously. When you look past all the ethical rhetoric, if you’ve decided to cause someone to die, “passively” or “actively”, you have decided to kill them. The only remaining question then is whether to make it as pleasant as possible – and clearly, you should.

  4. Musher Says:

    I remember visiting my great aunt after she’d had a stroke, she had written a living will saying that she didn’t want any medical intervention.
    So they packed her off to a nice little room in an old peoples home in Surrey and starved her to death, I’m not sure how long it took, 2 weeks maybe?
    She couldn’t talk but she seemed alert, certainly not drugged up, I handed her these little wet sponges on sticks and she sucked on them like she was dying of thirst, which I guess she was.
    It was truly disturbing.
    Easily the most inhumane thing I have ever witnessed, I can’t believe doctors believe that it’s an ethical alternative to euthanasia.

  5. anne corr Says:

    This is horrifying, but I agree with whoever questioned the decision to put a feeding tube in. I want the euthanasia debate to be urgent,public and rigorous. Most older people are now concerned about quality of life at the stage of incapacity. I watched my mother in law treated terribly in a modern city hospital, and never want to see anyone else die in such a manner.

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