In addition to the issues raised by ‘The Ventilator’ podcast, I want to simply comment on what I see as three common concerns.
Dignity. Most people who participate in this debate are concerned, and rightly so, about loss of dignity towards the end of life. There may be many expressions of what this means, usually centred on a fear of loss of bodily control and independence.
Pain. Most terminal conditions do result in increasing levels of pain and physical distress.
Impact on caregivers, family and friends. The usual expression of this is “I don’t want to be a burden.”
The vast majority of people in developed countries have access to high quality medicines provided and supervised by well-trained clinicians. In particular, the hospice movement provides excellent facilities specialising in delivering and supporting care of people at the end of their life. There is simply no excuse for such patients to suffer in pain and distress.
Dignity is largely defined by the person experiencing it. While the embarrassment of needing to be bathed, not having control of one’s bladder, or having to be fed is real, I consider there is a greater sense of dignity to be had through relationships of love and nurture. Having one’s loved-ones surrounding in the last days and weeks of life, washing, toileting and feeding a patient is arguably a source of much dignity.
And this dignity extends beyond the patient themselves. The loved-ones have the opportunity to learn to care and nurture, to love their friend and family member at the end of their life. Such an opportunity can be, paradoxically, life-giving for all!
I believe that to be a society that is mature and flourishing, we need to understand and engage in caring well for those around us who are at the end of their lives. We need not fear this part of living, but, rather, discover the joy and peace that can come at the end of life.