Monday, 24 June 2013
Dementia sufferers option to die marks another step on slippery slope
The news that an 83-year old is set to become the first dementia sufferer to make the journey to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland is a cause for real concern.
The individual is reported to be at the early stages of dementia, with a psychiatrist report asserting that he or she is mentally competent to kill themselves.
Reading the story reminded me of my own experiences over those last few years of my Dad’s life with dementia. I remember trudging up to the nursing home week in week out. As the time went by he seemed to become ever more remote. Sometimes, on the way home I would question how much value the visit had for Dad and how much it was to satisfy my own sense of “doing the right thing.”
On other occasions, he would recognise me and we’d have a good chat, until the shutters came down once again. Dementia sufferers go in and out of a sort of consciousness.
The big question was always, what was his real state of mind? If he was conscious of the situation, then it could be a real torment caught up in the home, frustrated at not being able to do and say what he wanted.
On the other hand, was he off in a totally different mental world, relatively content with life and unaware of what was going on around him. At present there is so little known about the conscious state of dementia sufferers that it is impossible to make a judgement.
The real danger of the dementia sufferer going to Dignitas is the sort of precedent it could create in relation to euthanasia. There has been much publicity surrounding the case of author Terry Pratchett, who is in the early stages of dementia.
Mr Pratchett wants to be allowed to die at a time of his own choosing in this country. He is also does not anyone who might help him prosecuted after he has departed.
Mr Pratchett has made a number of programmes on the subject, accompanying individuals on their path to Dignitas and death.
The Pratchett case though underlines the big danger of loosening the rules on assisted dying and euthanasia. Mr Pratchett is a millionaire author. He has the resources and support networks to make his now very public decision to die. Many would argue he and others should have that right. However, Mr Pratchett’s case is very different from that of the elderly person in a hospital bed with no friends or relatives to fight their corner. It is also very different from the person with a serious illness who has a family keen to get their hands on his or her financial assets.
Having witnessed at first hand my Dad’s suffering with dementia and now my Mum’s equally horrific struggle against physical incapacity I would not be as insensitive as to rule out anybody’s right to die.
However, what is of real concern is when the economics of a cash strapped NHS are brought into this equation.
There is already an unofficial policy of rationing resources for treatment of the elderly in hospitals. When factors like the high number of NHS beds being occupied by dementia sufferers is added to a need to make cuts one wonders if rules on assisted dying were relaxed then would an unofficial euthanasia policy not quickly develop.
It is this overidding danger of financial constraint that fills me with fear whenever news comes of making assisted dying or euthanasia that much easier.
We live in a society where sanctity of life seems to be devalued with each passing week. The value of life is seen increasingly in terms of what an individual has to contribute. Those who have retired, despite contributing in many different ways whether as carers or tax payers, are increasingly being perceived as a burden. If this low value on life continues into the area of medical care then it will not be long before this society starts down the road that leads to Nazi style eugenics. It is for these reasons that I would be concerned over any lowering of the barriers as they now stand to assisted dying or euthanasia.
23/6/2013 - Universe