This is a guest post by a local voter who has worked in a major London NHS hospital since 2011. He worked first as a Healthcare Assistant on the wards and is now an Emergency Department Assistant (EDA) in Accident & Emergency.
As you're the Green Party candidate for Enfield North, I'm writing to
you to ask you for your thoughts on recent attempts by organisations,
such as Dignity in Dying, to legalise and enshrine an individual's right
to choose to die under specific circumstances.
is a sensitive and personal issue for all of us: we will all die at some
point. I feel that as a nation we are prone to ignoring this very
pertinent fact of life, to the detriment of our friends, family and
loved ones. A more pragmatic reason for me to write to you about this is
because I work in healthcare. I've seen people die, whether they were
young or old, sick or (apparently) healthy. Death is indiscriminate and
we do ourselves a disservice when we think of it as an enemy to be
fended off at all costs.
I have looked after patients in the
late stages of dementia, whose families have insisted that they be given
feeding tubes when they are no longer capable of chewing and swallowing
proper food. This is not a common occurrence, but it happens. These
patients cannot communicate, move or control their bodily functions. Do
they know what they're experiencing? Do they have a concept of time
passing, as they lie there being drip-fed and hydrated by artificial
means? I honestly couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that being
fed through a PEG feed gives a patient constant loose stool, which
inevitably leads to them having to be turned and cleaned up with
regularity, as well as extreme discomfort.
The NHS will proclaim
an adherence to 'dignity in care' until they're blue in the face. Take a
moment to consider the above scenario, to imagine what healthcare
workers have to do to keep that individual clean, pressure-sore free
and, for lack of a better word, 'healthy'. Perhaps I misunderstand the
concept of dignity, but I cannot find any of it there. I can apply the
word 'abuse' more readily to that situation than 'dignity'. The
suffering is needless, sad and preventable.
This is an extreme
example, but I want you to understand how the current attitudes towards
death in our country have encouraged things to happen that are at best
questionable, and at worst reprehensible. We do not die well in the UK,
because most of us choose to reject the idea that death is inevitable.
Many of us will die in hospital, surrounded by strangers and alone.
Maybe in pain, maybe not. Maybe in our sleep, maybe not. I won't list
the ways in which I've seen lives end, but you should understand that
they are numerous and for the most part very unpleasant indeed.
We do our best in the NHS to look after those whose death is imminent,
to give them relief from any pain or discomfort. Everything short of
giving patients a choice. Sometimes a patient gets lucky and is able to
go home and die, supported by their friends and relatives, but these
instances are few and far between.
I'm 29-years-old and I don't
take my life for granted. I never have. Before I worked in the NHS I
was attempting to join the forces, and I certainly didn't assume that -
in the event that I was successful and made it to combat zones overseas -
I would survive because of my youth and physical fitness. After three
and a half years in the NHS, I have seen enough to confirm it doesn't
matter how young or healthy we are. We will all die of something. It is only right that we be given the means to choose, if possible and desirable, how we experience those final heartbeats.
A few weeks ago the well-loved and respected Sir Terry Pratchett died
in his home, surrounded by his family. He was a leading voice in the
campaign to change the law on Assisted Dying and was often quoted
saying, "It's time we learned to get as good at dying as we are at
For those who would rather die when it is "their time", I endorse their
decision and our current framework can cater to that. For those of us who want
to choose when we die the current system is woefully inadequate.