doctors and dignity

Just seen this link – ‘UK doctors consistently oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide‘. It describes a literature review of doctors’ attitudes to assisted suicide over the last 20 years, confirming that the medical profession as a whole remains reassuringly unconvinced of the value of modifying a doctor’s role to include intentionally ending their patients’ lives.

It jumped out as I’ve just recently read Against Physician Assisted Suicide: A Palliative Care Perspective, by David Jeffrey (2009).  (Amazon)

Jeffrey points out that palliative care and physician assisted suicide are fundamentally incompatible, and the perceived need for the latter arises only in the absence of the former. The UK is currently the world leader in palliative care, the approach which seeks to improve the patient’s quality of life through the prevention and relief of suffering.

It’s only a short book (120 page paperback)  but it covers a huge amount of ground – ethical, legal, and practical issues surrounding the care of the dying, with a helpful analysis of the failed Joffe Bill and the situation in Oregon and the Netherlands, where forms of assisted suicide have been legalised.

Most usefully of all, it calmly, gently, and thoroughly dismantles the myth that dying can only be dignified if it happens at a time and in a way under your own control. The ‘suffering’ component of any illness is much more of a psychological and social problem than medical, and once patients have their pain controlled, if they are assisted to address their fears and feelings of hopelessness, whatever attractiveness they had seen in ending their life prematurely seems to quietly disappear.

Scaring people about the horrors of old age and illness is a great way of instilling the idea that life is not worth living unless you’re young and fit, but it’s really just an unrealistic and defeatist attitude which treats human life with vastly less of the dignity it pretends to – as untold numbers of disabled and older people can testify.