Sarah Wootton wrote a piece in the Guardian, a few days ago, considering Baroness Warnock’s comments in the Church of Scotland’s magazine, Life and Work, in which she stated that dementia suffers may have ‘a duty to die’.
Uproar followed as it is a headline which is easy to write – the piece in the Guardian follows on with a wider discussion about euthanasia in general. Instinctively, euthanasia as a general concept sits uneasily with me. While respecting the autonomy of the individual, I find it hard to equate with a possible ‘easy’ solution being taken. I find the issue of non-treatment and palliative care much easier than an active decision to choose death but that’s not really my point for this post.
It is more the issue of dementia being raised as a possible reason to advocate euthanasia. The Telegraph reports further on Baroness Warnock’s comments.
Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.
“I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.
“Actually I’ve just written an article called ‘A Duty to Die?’ for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself.”
I suppose there are many similar parallels that can be drawn with other conditions that might ‘waste people’s lives’ – when family members care for a loved one, I’m not sure it really is a ‘waste’. I see a lot of the time, effort and money for that matter that is needed to support particular people at particular times but links in with the duty of care rather than a personal responsibility of that individual or that family or the state to make the decision about what is justified and what is unjustified cost.
Baroness Warnock has, I believe, raised this issue to raise wider debate about euthanasia. She is no fool. I have difficulties with the position on so many levels but mostly because I come from a position where I can see a lot of the pain caused immediately following a diagnosis of dementia through to the last stages of the disease.
There is also a niggling feeling that the opportunity for less than caring family or friends could influence someone’s decision and choice. I have seen many a Power of Attorney and Enduring/Lasting Power of Attorney that had been made in circumstances where capacity had already been lost and were therefore challenged subsequently when we were less than sure of the validity and intent of the Attorney in question. With Euthanasia there isn’t much room to appeal.
The awareness of what is happening can be cruel but the progression of the illness do not always cause pain to the individual who has the diagnosis. Sometimes it does and it can be a process that causes immense suffering, without doubt, but life and death are so rarely issues in which much choice exists.
It is easy now to say that if I were to lose my faculties I would rather die but I don’t believe it is ever a situation that can be foreseen. I honestly don’t know how I would feel were I to be in that situation. Different people respond and react in different ways.
Of course, situations and circumstances can be incredibly difficult for the family members, carers and yes, there is a huge cost to society, but each of us has the means to make a contribution to society as a whole.
Someone in the comments section of the Guardian mentioned that you can’t say what should or shouldn’t happen unless you have experienced caring for someone with dementia yourself and have seen what it does. I haven’t been in that situation myself. I have seen others do it many times. I think that sometimes life doesn’t offer us easy options. And death can’t really be seen as a solution.
There is still a family, friends, society, that needs to live with that ‘solution’ and that can create more problems in itself.